Ultra-light, but strong materials

Shan Shi is a new professor at TU Hamburg


Head of the Integrated Metallic Nanomaterial Systems Research Group: Prof. Shan Shi. Photo: private
Head of the Integrated Metallic Nanomaterial Systems Research Group: Prof. Shan Shi. Photo: private

The structures Prof. Shan Shi is working on look like the Tower Eiffel. This is because the material of her research is a hierarchically structured metal with struts of different sizes, the structure of which is so diffusely arranged that it consists largely of air. And thus resembles the Parisian landmark, whose iron struts appear filigree but give it a special stability. Shan Shi, however, is researching in tiny dimensions. The struts in the materials are only 15 nanometres in diameter and thus not visible to the naked eye. "With my research, I am developing a new material that is extremely light and at the same time high-strength," says Shi, explaining her work as a junior professor and the head of Research Group of Integrated Metallic Nanomaterial Systems at TU Hamburg. Shan Shi has previously worked with nanoporous structures during her doctorate and postdoctoral research at the Helmholtz Zentrum Hereon in Geesthacht. Research on this was the reason for her to come to TU Hamburg. Before that, the scientist completed her Master's degree in Materials Science and Engineering at Tsinghua University in China. 

The beauty of structure

"I am fascinated by the beauty of the versatile microstructure and properties of hierarchical nanoporous metallic materials. This type of material can be designed and developed to solve challenging or fundamental scientific questions and problems, as lightweight and strong structural materials, or as versatile functional materials," the materials scientist enthuses about her field. The materials can help save energy and develop smart applications, according to Prof. Shi.

Successful as a couple

TU Hamburg has played a decisive role in Shi's private life: Her husband followed her to Hamburg in 2018 to study for a doctorate, and last year their daughter was born. In 2021, the couple published a joint paper in the renowned journal “Science". This work outlined the fabrication of macroscopic, load-bearing, nested network nanomaterials in the form of nanoporous gold, providing the first demonstration – by experiment and theory – that structural hierarchy brings enhanced mechanics for truly nanoscale network materials. It marked the beginning of Shan Shi's current research. 

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Elke Schulze
E-Mail: elke.schulze@tuhh.de