Researching in tandem with Israel

On 1 February 2018, the Helmholtz International Research School “HI-SCORE” was launched, where researchers from Germany and Israel are working together to develop materials and components for solar energy conversion. Lichtblick talked with the research school’s coordinator, Daniel Abou-Ras, about this cooperation.

Who are the partners cooperating in the new Helmholtz research school HI-SCORE?

We have gained very prestigious partners: the Hebrew University, the Ben-Gurion University, the Bar-Ilan-University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, and the Technion. These Israeli partners work hand-in-hand with the experts from HZB and the Universities in Berlin and Potsdam.

HI-SCORE calls itself a research school, not a graduate school. What is the difference?

The PhD students at HI-SCORE are fundamentally integrated into the graduate schools of their home establishments, which offer them a fixed curriculum of courses and qualification programmes. At our research school, we furthermore combine the theses thematically. We are a network of different groups and institutes, each of which adds its own special areas of expertise so that we can work on research topics together.

What topics does HI-SCORE focus on?

We research semiconductor materials with large bandwidths for solar energy conversion. Specifically, we want to develop tandem elements for photovoltaics or for producing solar fuels. This involves various different aspects: we have to address functional interfaces and absorber materials, but also the design of components. And this requires very different competences, which we can cover excellently at the research school.

What expertise do HZB and the other partners contribute?

HZB is very strong in characterisation techniques, especially in conjunction with the soft X-ray light from BESSY II. We have a unique selling point with in-situ characterisation in the EMIL lab. We are also strong on synthesis through our involvement in the “Helmholtz Energy Materials Foundry”. Norbert Koch’s workgroup from Humboldt-Universität contributes additional surface and interface expertise. The Israeli partners have extensive expertise in materials synthesis, and also contribute complementary characterisation and simulation methods. So, we are widely diversified, which is important for making advancements in material and component development.

How many doctoral candidates are being supervised at HI-SCORE and how do they benefit from the cooperation?

We will be supervising around 30 PhD students, where six positions are funded directly through HI-SCORE, while the seven partners contribute the others. Each candidate has a German and an Israeli supervisor and will research in the host country for around six months. The candidates will thereby establish a strong bond with the workgroups at the guest institutions. So, HI-SCORE is set up very internationally, from which the candidates will benefit in every respect – professionally and culturally.

Have you already got to know your cooperation partners in Israel personally?

I already know the Israeli partners very well from earlier research projects. I am also already supervising two PhD candidates with Israeli scientists who are involved in HI-SCORE. It’s not just through this cooperation that I know Israel; it’s my second home. I have family and many friends there. This makes it easy to establish contacts and provides a sound basis of trust.

What added value do you gain from HI-SCORE, personally?

We are convinced that, with our different competences, we can achieve very much indeed. For me, science is the most fun when every partner sees an added value and can get involved and contribute ideas. We are starting HI-SCORE with this as our motivation, and look forward to an exciting time of cooperation and good scientific results.

Interviewed by Silvia Zerbe