Editor’s Note: NESSE member Simon Rauch interviewed Prof. Dr. Schlücker on his career path to becoming a professor, the meaning of sustainability and the topic “future management”. Prof. Dr. Schlücker is the chair for process machinery and apparatus technology at University of Erlangen/Nuremberg.
Rauch: In your lecture “Future Management“, you said that one does not speak enough about sustainability and act for it. That is also my opinion and I would like to change this. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
Rauch: Now you are the head of the institute of process machinery and systems engineering at the University of Erlangen/Nuremberg. Could you talk about how you reached this position?
Schlücker: I didn’t do the A-levels, maybe I should start with this, but I have a degree from secondary school. In addition to an apprenticeship as a metal worker, I got a skilled worker degree in mechanical engineering in an evening school. Being 17 years old, I studied mechanical engineering at a technical college. At the young age of 21 I started working at a company as an engineer, where I had the luck to meet a person, who showed me what research means and encouraged me, to keep going. While I was working there, I realized that I am interested in it and that I find pleasure in discovering new things. So I decided to study chemical engineering here in Erlangen and finish my PhD. Afterwards I went back to the company as head of the research and development department. Only shortly after that I became Head of Engineering. When I got to know that the position of my doctoral supervisor will be available, I applied for it and I was lucky. Concerning research, I have developed a nice idiom: “research is like gathering flowers, but the bouquet in the hand is becoming smaller and the meadow more colorful” this simply means: I have a question, I find an answer to this question but have two new questions. Research never ends and is always exciting.
I also like it that the students never get older, only I do. So I can follow the trends of the adolescent culture and always get new input. I wouldn’t have that in a company. Being a professor is a great job.
Rauch: You already anticipated the next question. What played a pivotal role in your career path, coincidence, luck or misfortune?
Schlücker: Bad luck didn’t. Coincidence did in the shape of human encounters. I had, coincidence or not, great bosses in a company, who took a serious interest in helping their employees develop. I became friends with my former superior, who was 20 years older than me. He was the one motivating me and he was the influence that brought me on my way.
Rauch: You answered some of your emails with your smartphone. Would you be able to live without it or is it a necessity for the job as professor nowadays?
Schlücker: You could put it this way: We have the problem that we put our society into the hands of those devices. Because everybody does this, we cannot do without it in this profession. A working day isn’t finished after eight hours and the weekend also isn’t free with work. One relies on fast communication and this is also expected by others. If you don’t answer in 24 hours, this is seen negatively. I’m not happy with this development, because for me sustainability starts with how you deal with information and time. Furthermore, the circumstances of the research became more difficult regarding university management or the financial resources. We don’t have enough money for doctoral students, as it is necessary. Additionally, permanent positions are cancelled and the bureaucracy rises. One cannot lead his institute like before. It’s more like institute management.
Rauch: It’s important for you, to arouse interest for research in school already. How do you realize this?
Schlücker: I’m a sponsor at a high school. From there, every year ten to 15 pupils come to the institute. They get a guided tour, I explain everything, show them everything. If they want, they can work on their own. I also donated a price. That one is awarded to the two best project works. Like this, I want to get in contact with the adolescents. When I was a young boy, the role models were scientist, engineers but also politicians. Today, most young people don’t have any role models, and if so, these are starlets from those casting shows and other strange celebrities. I think that we have lost something and in the context of my possibilities I try to be a role model like it was seen in former times.
Rauch: As your former boss and friend today, you want to motivate these pupils to do research?
Schlücker: Sure, awaken interest, show them that it is fun. It is not a classical role model effect, but I want to convey enthusiasm. I enjoy it, when one can convince and fascinate young people by taking action, but also by talking. The astonishment is important, as well as mindfulness and gratitude.
Rauch: How do you understand the term sustainability?
Schlücker: For me, sustainability has a lot of facets. In essence it is about this: Treat humans, animals and nature in a way that a development, initiated by us, has the aim to treat all people around the world fairly, give chances and don’t influence the nature negatively.
Rauch: What role do engineers play in the realization of the idea of sustainability?
Schlücker: In my mind, engineers design the society with their technologies and the resulting wealth. They do so since several hundred years. One has to say, the problems regarding climate and environment are created by engineers, or they rather confronted society with them. It all started with coal mining and oil exploration. Therefore, it’s their task to invent technologies, which reverse this development. We were able to found a company, who is producing energy storage systems based on Liquid-Organic-Hydrogen-Carrier. These should contribute to the German “Energiewende” and the decentralized energy supply because they realize the energy storage over a long time without any bigger problems or costs, at a very low carbon-footprint. In another project I apply myself to the manufacture of organic plant protection products. We can observe that natural agents exist for many plants and plant diseases. Mostly one does not need any poisons.
Rauch: In the course of the German “Energiewende”, politicians plan for a rising energy consumption in the future. Shouldn’t it be the aim that the energy consumption is being reduced?
Schlücker: If we want to produce all the energy that we consume at the moment, in our country, we have to plant photovoltaic systems and wind turbines everywhere. So we will be bound to optimize the energy efficiency of our processes. At the moment I occupy myself with a project: modularization by the plant construction. I had the idea to provide all pumps with the same connection flange. With this, when the process is known in detail, the size of the pump can be laid out in an optimal way with the best efficiency level. This may cause an improvement regarding the energy consumption by 15-20 %.
Rauch: You give a lecture with the subject “future management”. Can you describe shortly what that means?
Schlücker: Future management should enable a good way to work for the people in the setting of sustainability. There should not occur any damage to fellow humans and nature. Especially in this subject, a lot of work has to be done. For example, in the range of a decentralized energy supply system. Should this be realized someday, there will exist, beside some big one, a lot of small structures, who need a new form of cooperation. Regarding this, it is important to limit egoisms, if we want to reach this objective together. I often apply for patents. Sometime, as with the idea of the unification of the flange, I waive on applying a patent, but publicize it, because I think that everybody should do it this way. It should be a common property.
Rauch: “Those who have visions should go to the doctors” said once the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt. I think your philosophy is quite different. What is your vision?
Schlücker: Of course. Without visions and dreams, there is no progress. First comes the dream, the vision is next and finally the realization. I have the vision of a decentralized energy supply. I have a vision of a better interaction and cooperation among people. Visions are import to get ahead. Regarding science, but also politics.
Rauch: That’s a great conclusion. Many thanks for the talk.