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RWTH Aachen // Forschungsschwerpunkte

Interdisciplinarity solves complex problems

Aachen University has at its disposal the know-how of highly specialized experts who are just as active in basic research as they are in application-oriented research. On the one hand, this specialization constantly opens up new areas of knowledge whilst on the other hand the demands made on technological systems are in many cases so complex that possible solutions can only be sought in inter- or transdisciplinary cooperation. This state of affairs typically leads to the need to conceive and implement research projects in a way which transcends the traditional faculty boundaries. Aachen University has always emphatically supported this development.


The establishment of interdisciplinary research institutions and forms of organization takes account of the goal of considering people, technology and the environment from a holistic point of view. It is precisely thanks to the effective and efficient interplay between different disciplines that recent years have seen the emergence of innovatory solutions to product  and process problems. Examples of this are ecologically compatible production techniques and socially acceptable automation techniques, the application of "soft" technologies in urban renewal schemes or of IT in medicine.


Special Research Areas


Complex basic research themes lend themselves especially well to efficient and holistic treatment in Special Research Areas (Sonderforschungsbereiche, SFB). Research is conducted  simultaneously by scholars representing in part totally different subject disciplines. A continuous exchange of data, experience, material and last but not least of academic staff ensures a truly close interdisciplinary collaboration between the Institutes involved. Such teamwork results furthermore in a sustainable promotion of young scholars in these projects, some of which are supported for up to twelve years.


Moreover, the Special Research Areas are increasingly developing into important criteria for the evaluation of scholarship, for instance in the form of ranking. The nationwide programme is initiated and financed by the German Research Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), which recommends teams of researchers for evaluation at regular intervals. This is the instrument for checking up on and evaluating the research findings and goals of the very costly projects. In the last few years the University succeeded in founding at least one, or – as in the case of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science – several Special Research Areas. And as a result there are by now 12 such major long-term projects as well as the first Federal German Research Group at Aachen University being funded at the rate of over 20 million Euros. External research institutes such as the Jülich Research Centre, the Fraunhofer Institutes in Aachen or the German Air and Space Centre in Cologne are partners in some Special Research Areas. A total of 120 part-projects, 160 nonprofessorial academic staff, 60 non-academic staff as well as 240 student helpers are actively involved in the Special Research Areas.


Interdisciplinary forums


At the end of the 1980's, six interdisciplinary panels joined together (to discuss) the key issues environment, materials, computer sciences, technology and society, mobility and transport als well as life sciences in order to develop interdisciplinary cooperation within the University and with external partners.


  • The Environmental Panel combines subject overlapping cooperation in the environmental sciences and technology fields. Guidelines for corporate labor are transand interdisciplinarity as well as the concept of sustainability. Corresponding research approaches are found in multiple EU and BMBF research projects and in some course programs. Thematic focus is on the areas of water an energy, development of customized technologies for marginal and less development countries, resource management, environmental and molecular biotechnology, the sustained regional development al well as on the fields environment and health an education for sustainability. Furthermore, the panel coordinates the panel-overlapping working groups water and energy.


  • The Materials Forum consists of five working-parties: metals, glass/ceramics, polymers, composite materials/ material compounds and electronic materials. Selected research foci deal for instance with the development and practical application of materials with specific properties for specific applications, the optimisation of production technologies and the development of new processing phases as well as the development of surface treatment and coating and laminating techniques.


  • The Information Technology (IT) Forum is playing a leading role in the introduction of a regional network infrastructure and is working on the development of information and communication services. Furthermore, all relevant activities of Aachen University are subsumed in the Working-party on Multimedia.


  • The Technology and Society Forum is centred around the exchange views between engineering and science disciplines on the one hand and representatives of the humanities and social sciences on the other hand. Symposia on "Technology and Fear" or "Chances and Limits of the Information Society" provide platforms for debating the current evaluation of technology.


  • The aim of the Life Sciences Forum is to promote cooperation between scientists, medics and engineers. The Forum has a watching brief over the Aachen Cmpetence Centres for Medical Technology (AKM) and for Bio-Materials (bwA) and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Clinical Research (IZKF, “BIOMAT.”) as well as the Bionics Centre Aachen and the Helmholtz Institute of Biomedical Technology. In 2003 the research association Applied Life Science Aachen (ALSA), already initiated in 2000, was officially founded as a work-group of the Forum, giving overall focus to the scholarly activities in seven areas of the life sciences.


  • 2003 brought a further addition to the family of Aachen University’s inter-disciplinary forums: In order to strengthen and focus all the competence and activities of the University in the area of Mobility and Traffic a forum of the same name was established. The area embraces all fields of work related to the human, ecological, technological, legal and organizational action concepts and measures. The aim is the shaping of local, regional, national and global traffic systems. Among other things, this concerns the fields of traffic infrastructure, vehicle technology and vehicle construction but also the organization, running and management of traffic systems. Within the Forum, perspectives on the further development of the area of mobility and traffic at Aachen University are to be developed too.