Unicellular planktonic organisms such as diatoms constitute the most important basis of marine food webs. They make a major contribution to global primary production and have an essential effect on the oceans’ biogeochemistry. Marine key taxa like krill, fish, and whales basically depend on them. The diatoms’ success is largely due to the development of complex, species-specific silica shells - the frustules - , which protect them against predators such as copepods and krill.

We explore the principles that turn the exoskeletons (shells) of these organisms into extremely light and stable constructions. We found that the shells’ highly complex geometries have a large share in these characteristics. Based on these research results, we developed the bionic product creation process ELiSE in 2005, which we have continuously improved ever since.

Recently, we started projects to examine the nanostructure and morphogenesis of diatom shells in order to be able to optimally adapt the ELiSE process  to highly developed composite material and manufacturing techniques like investment casting or Additive Manufacturing (AM). Reversely, we use new developments from industrial projects, such as the parametric optimization with the aid of genetic algorithms, to obtain new findings on the functional morphology of plankton organisms. Furthermore, we develop and apply microscopic analyses and 3D reconstructions, micromechanical tests, culture experiments, and ecologic examinations.

We aim at systematically refining fundamental research, applied research, and product development in the field of lightweight design in nature and technique, consequentially using strong synergy effects. We therefore closely cooperate with other divisions in AWI, particularly the Friedrich Hustedt Diatom Study Centre and the Polar Biological Oceanography, application-oriented institutes like KIT, organizations like BioKon and VDI as well as industrial companies from diverse sectors.

Latest News

04.03.2021 - Interview by Christian in magazine Leichtbauwelt (in german)
In the series "Heads of the Lightweight Construction World", the magazine Leichtbauwelt - Inspiration für Ihren Fortschritt im Leichtbau introduces people working in key positions in various industries and functions in lightweight construction. In the current issue, Dr. Christian Hamm is the interview partner.

02.02.2021 - Student from France starts his master thesis in our group
Landry, mechanical engineering student at the Ecole Nationale d'Ingènieurs de Metz is part of our team for the next months. As part of his master's thesis, he is studying lightweight structures and their use in prosthetics.

02.01.2021 - 25th anniversary!!!
We congratulate our Head of Group Dr. Christian Hamm on 25th anniversary here at AWI.

01.02.2021 - Welcome Paula and Selina
From now on we are happy to welcome two new members in our team. Paula will support us in the areas of basic research/biology and microscopy, while Selina will support our engineers and investigate the connection between mechanics and aesthetics.

27.01.2021 - New entries on our project page
You can now find information about our two new projects Form and Function and FIONA on our project page. While Form and Function is about the investigation of the structural performance of phytoplankton morphologies, FIONA is about bionic structures and the use of anisotropic materials in 3D printing.

Head of Unit
Dr. Christian Hamm

Assistance / Website
Sandra Coordes

Here you can find our tenders for theses.