HHI-Institutsleiter: Prof. Martin Schell, Prof. Thomas Wiegand Foto: Fraunhofer Institut für Nachrichtentechnik, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, HHI
At some point, one finds oneself standing on the street again, looking back in amazement at the unassuming white high-rise built in the 1960s and emblazoned with the word Fraunhofer. Indeed, one stands there thinking: It can be done. Martin Schell is head of the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI). And the research performed by him and his colleagues has significantly influenced the course of modern telecommunications. The HHI is a global leader in the development of mobile and land-based broadband communication networks and multimedia systems. In practical terms, this means that these Berlin-based researchers made it possible for people all over the world to watch videos on their smartphones. Or enjoy lightening-speed access to an internet page at the other end of the globe in a matter of seconds.
In other words, it all comes down to the pivotal question of modern communication technologies. „It‘s a bit like the chicken and the egg,“ says Schell. On the one hand, the search is on for ways to increase data volume even further; on the other hand, how can we compress this volume at the same time? Especially seeing as the fiber optic cable that runs between Europe and North America, for example, has a limited capacity. In the past several years, data volumes have increased steadily. How can we squeeze all this data through this limited cable? It would cost billions to lay new cable. In other words, the data must somehow be compressed. Albert Einstein once said: „We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.“ And this is precisely the strength of the HHI. „For us, there‘s no discussion about the difference between basic research and application. At the HHI, they belong together,“ explains Schell.
For many years now, the institute has also been conducting research in the field of medical technology. Indeed, what works in the field of telecommunications can also be applied in certain areas of medicine. For example, at the moment, the HHI is working with the neonatal department of Berlin‘s Charité University Hospital. Scientists are developing a special device to perform blood tests. The idea is to use a single drop of blood from premature babies to be able to generate a complete blood count. This works with the help of a specially coated wafer. The discs are mostly round, roughly one millimeter thick, are typically made of silicon and function as a base plate in electronic components. The idea is that certain substances in the blood accumulate on the special coating of the wafer. In order to measure blood values, the scientists use the principle of total internal reflection. If one light beam moves from one medium to another, for example from water to air, then it is refracted or reflected to different degrees depending on the medium and entry angle. For example, rain sensors in cars function according to the same principle.
Yet another important issue is model-based 3D tracking. With the help of images generated by magnetic resonance (MRT) and computed tomography (CT) scans, researchers at the HHI can create a 3D image, for example, of a kidney or liver. This allows physicians to better prepare for surgery, but it can also be used for training purposes and to test a variety of different procedures. Even before the operation begins, they can take a look at what the endoscope will later show them „live,“ so to speak. This is also called a virtual camera option. „In general, the better you can plan, the more successful the operation,“ explains Schell.
No doubt, this kind of research would have made Heinrich Hertz proud.