This summer, scientists from the Friedrich Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg, along with renowned guests from Germany and abroad, embarked on an unusual expedition as part of the first Science Sets Sail. Dr. Sabrina Kirner from the Nanomaterial Technologies Division not only encountered other scientists but a Baltic Sea storm during her sailing trip.
From the lab to the ship
Nine international teams sailed on the Thor Heyerdahl in a joint cruise from Kiel via Malmö, Riga, Helsinki and Tallinn to Rostock. Not only did they exchange scientific information, but also had to manage harsh everyday life on the Baltic Sea.
Ms Kirner, what did you find most exciting on this trip?
A three-master, salty sea air, swell – is this the right place for a workshop? Yes, for sure! Not only does this atmosphere encourage cooperation, but also the team’s creativity from different scientific disciplines. It is a great challenge of course to concentrate on scientific themes on stormy seas and a moving deck but good scientists should not shy away from challenges! This extraordinary place and the fact of escaping from the laboratory or office routine provided the best fertile soil for new ideas and cooperation.
Did you establish new contacts with other scientists?
Yes! Onboard the ship I met many scientists who deal with some very interesting research topics. Some of them are investigating themes similar to my research at BAM. The scientific discussions soon revealed that we are targeting and examining similar material properties but use different methods. This offers many points of contact between the research groups and I am still in contact with scientists from Erlangen, Delft, Bordeaux and Copenhagen with the aim of firming up project ideas.
What is the difference between cooperation onboard a ship and in the office or laboratory?
Onboard a ship, one relies on teamwork. You must pull together in the truest sense of the word. As a teaching sailing ship, Thor Heyerdahl was deliberately built to require many people to sail her. And the motivation of all those involved was so great that there were no problems with collaboration. The biggest challenge for me was the strong wind. In the first few days we had up to force 8 winds. In addition, the heaving deck created different problems: one had to hold tight all the things one works with all the time – and of course yourself as well. In fact, it's a challenge to concentrate on scientific issues in times of heavy seas.
Swaying deck, strong teamwork
After a heavy sea on the first few days, the crew were taken by surprise by a storm on their way to Gdansk. More than half of the crew were seasick – the remaining people had to take over control of the entire ship under difficult conditions. Due to the weather, the captain decided not to call at the port of Gdansk as planned. The new route instead led to the Swedish island of Gotland, which was the safest shelter to reach under the circumstances. Unfortunately, the scientists missed the opportunity to present their findings to the Polish public at the Open Ship Day in Gdansk. To make up for this loss, an on-board poster session was organised. The presentation and the subsequent time taken to discuss the research offered a good opportunity to exchange information about their findings in detail.
Ms Kirner, which event will you remember most?
The feeling of looking down at the people on the ship and the seemingly endless sea from the almost 30 m high mainmast. Of course you feel a mixture of respect and some fear of that height, but it's so nice that you want to stay up there for longer. Also, I found the feeling of being at the wheel very impressive and knowingly be able to steer a ship of this size.
What do you think you can use in your work at BAM from this experience?
Similar to sailing, you sometimes have to change course in research if the wind comes from the wrong direction. This doesn’t mean to give up at the slightest resistance. But you should not waste your energy unnecessarily. Sometimes a change of course brings new ideas and surprising insights!
About the LiNaBioFluid project
Many industrial applications benefit from nano- and microstructuring the surface to optimise friction behaviour. BAM has been using laser technology for years to create such patterns and study material properties influenced by them. In the LiNaBioFluid (Laser-induced Nanostructures as Biomimetic Model of Fluid Transport in the Integument of Animals) project, together with six other international research and industrial partners from Germany, Austria, Spain and Greece, BAM researchers are investigating topographical effects and chemical influences. The skin of lizards and bark bugs serve as models for technical surfaces. LiNaBioFluid is funded by the EU as a HORIZON 2020 project.