Between circular saws and high-tech | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.11.2009
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Between circular saws and high-tech

Leisure time? Vacation? The people in southwestern Germany think they may have heard of it but… What was that again? Baden-Wuerttemburg is booming, and its citizens don't have much time for play.

Illustration for Baden-Wuerttemberg

He is happiest when he is in his workshop - measuring, sawing, sanding. Cabinetmaker Gerhard Deggelmann always has a lot to do.

At first glance he seems grumpy; his brown eyes glare skeptically at a visitor through his round metal glasses. But soon, the joker in him comes out. And as the talk turns to window frame sizes and the variety of handles they can have, he becomes increasingly talkative.

Gerhard runs the business started by his great-grandfather. Over four generations, what started as a one-man carpentry shop has grown into a flourishing business with 35 employees.

Innovation is key to success

In addition to general cabinetry, Deggelmann specializes in building windows. The key to his success? Innovation. "We have continued to develop new methods that we can use exclusively for a few years, before we sell them on to another firm," he says proudly. He's a craftsman who does research on the side.

Wood block and shavings

Woodworker Deggelmann likes to stay busy

Can such diligence and single-mindedness only be found in Baden-Wuerttemberg? Deggelmann shakes his head energetically. "Anyone can do it if they want to."

Ulrich Ruediger is another person whose job is more than "just a job." The physics professor's favorite work tool is something special, too; a complex stainless steel machine that stands as tall as a man and has any number of cables, tubes and measuring devices attached to it. It is his pride and joy: a scanning tunneling microscope, newly acquired by the university in Constance.

Cool tool: scanning tunneling microscope

The machine, which cost around a million euros, is an important device for conducting research in the field of nanotechnology.

A nanometer is a millionth of a millimeter. To think of a molecule that size, imagine this: the size of a nanometer compared to an orange is equal to the size of an orange compared to the earth. The scanning tunneling microscope can recognize the tiniest particle of material on a specimen, and reproduce its image. It allows physicists to reproduce the physical properties of various materials.

Nanotechnology is a relatively new area of research. It increasingly attracts scientists to the university in Constance. That university was recently named one of Germany's Universities of Excellence, along with three other universities in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

To enter Ulrich Ruediger's laboratory, you need to put on a white lab coat, a sort of a shower cap, and blue booties over your shoes, in order to keep as much dust and dirt out of the lab as possible. Giant air conditioners are responsible for nearly germ-free air. Some of the substances the researchers work with, to separate different particle layers, can be dangerous.

University of Constance

The University of Constance has elite status

No place like Constance

Ruediger says he likes working with people from different disciplines. Normally, researchers just care for their own little area of study - but "here at Constance it is different," he says.

"There are only 10,000 students at the school. It is very small. There's not much bureaucracy. If you have something to talk about, you can just do it over lunch at the cafeteria. You see the chancellor there all the time."

Ruediger has worked in New York, but the small town of Constance is an ideal place to work, he says. "You live and work right on Lake Constance, but you're in the Alps quickly. It's really great," he says. He has already gotten used to some of the pervasive regional dialect - and notes that he can get by without speaking it, because English is the language used in the research community at the university.

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