Extreme Environments

Most of the normal matter in the universe is contained in stars, planets
and other massive objects, subjected to crushing pressure and high
temperature. Such conditions also occur during explosions and impacts,
and in nuclear energy systems.
In addition, the limits of the survival of life at extreme conditions, such
as, in the depths of ocean and on extraterrestrial worlds, remains of
central interest.

This research area covers the nature of high-pressure and high-
temperature phenomena and their origin in basic physical principles, and

focuses on how new physical properties emerge at extreme conditions,
such as under very high pressure, very high/low temperature, and at high
atomic density.
In extreme physics, various principles such as thermodynamics,
condensed matter physics, plasma physics, astrophysics, and mechanics
are involved.
Our aim is to understand how pressure and temperature generate
unusual states of matter, crystallize exotic structures, form shock waves,
produce energy via nuclear fusion, and lead to exotic requirements for
life (in a microbiological context).
In this research area, we discuss the transformation of simple materials
subjected to extreme conditions, high-pressure crystal structures, the
nature of molecules at high density, plasmas and electronic
transformations, and conditions for life.

We study how materials respond to extremes in energetic fluxes,
thermomechanical forces, chemistry, and electromagnetic fields.
We use diamond anvils or large lasers to create high pressures, liquid He
cooling and laser heating to change temperatures, and X-rays, neutrons
and optical spectroscopy to study how the structural organization of
materials change.
Understanding our observations is aided by computational simulations,
using methods such as electronic structure calculations, classical and
quantum molecular dynamics.
Metamaterials are artificial electromagnetic media that are structured
on the subwavelength scale.
They provide optical properties that can be reproducibly shaped on
length scales below the wavelength of light.
Metamaterials that are not found in nature can be endowed with entirely
unexpected properties.
Although most work so far focused on microwave frequencies, the
principle of metamaterials may be most promising at much higher
frequencies, at optical frequencies, or in the Tera-Hz region.
Metamaterials attract great interest, as they promise revolutionary ways
to manipulate electromagnetic radiation such as microwaves.
For example, suitably structured metallic metamaterials were found to
bend light with a negative refractive index, to permit subwavelength
confinement and control of light, and to enhance the interaction of light
with matter.
The interest is currently shifting towards achieving tunable, switchable,
nonlinear and sensing functionalities.
Metamaterials can assume certain characteristics defined “extreme”
(parameters, structures, etc,), and have the potential to shift the
paradigm of space exploration, enabling numerous low cost and high
speed missions to be launched anytime and anywhere, and then they can
be used in extreme environments.

Research in Engineering works under the premise of the normal (climatic)
boundary conditions within the earth’s atmosphere.
How to proceed in environments with parameters different from usual?
For example, large water pressures (deep sea structures), extreme
temperatures (deserts, poles and high mountain zones), flood risks or
extreme ground movements create boundary conditions that challenge
and question common approaches.
This is especially true for the extraterrestrial construction with altered
gravity, intense radiation and limited resources.
What happens when the environment and the demands on structures
change extremely? Droughts, melting permafrost, heavy rain and strong
wind events: climate change is already creating such changing boundary
conditions and requires holistic and innovative solutions.
And obviously this is true also for aircrafts and spacecrafts.
A major goal of the research area in Extreme Engineering is the
development of such solutions for extreme environmental conditions.
One focus is the development of new living and working spaces (e.g.
extraterrestrial or deep underground on Earth) and the associated
creation of new building structures.
This will result in innovative research topics such as:
• Monitoring environmental conditions to prevent catastrophic impacts
of climate change and to analyze individual events.
• Retrofitting of existing structures against strong wind events.
• Testing of building materials for use under high pressures, for
example in mining against very high water pressures of up to 150 bar.
• Development and testing of innovative concepts and structures for
extraterrestrial construction and operation of structural buildings.
• 3D printing with only locally available building materials e.g. arid
zones (terrestrial areas) or on the Moon or Mars (extraterrestrial
• Determination of the effects of extreme weather on infrastructures
and development of suitable protection concepts, e.g. in alpine

• Sensor-based construction progress control for the management of
• Construction in earthquake-prone areas.
• Design, manufacture, transport and assembly of extremely
lightweight, easily assembled or bulky components.
Aerospace engineering develop leading-edge technologies (using skills in
aerodynamics, materials and structures, propulsion, vehicle dynamics
and control, and software) and integrate them into aerospace vehicle
systems used for transportation, communications, exploration, and
defense applications.
This involves the design and manufacturing of aircraft, spacecraft,
propulsion systems, satellites, and missiles, as well as the design and
testing of aircraft and aerospace products, components, and

Biochemical and biophysical processes are deepened in extreme
environments, including space, also at quantum level.
The new perspectives gained through the investigation of extreme
environments allows the refinement of theories and development of
new ideas, as well as considerable opportunities in terms of
biotechnological applications.
It is a useful basis for addressing future problems related to Astrobiology.

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