Research and conversations at the coffee machine

June 20, 2023 | The institute director on creativity in research and the positive effects of good coffee

Above all else, what makes Fraunhofer IIS a renowned research institute is that it develops pioneering technologies. Executive Director Prof. Albert Heuberger explains why a pleasant atmosphere and an open exchange with supervisors are just as important as technical expertise – and what all of this has to do with coffee.

Fraunhofer IIS is not necessarily known for coffee research, so what prompted you to make a film about coffee and technology?


Albert Heuberger: The idea just suddenly popped up. We realized that we could use coffee as a way to bring a whole host of Fraunhofer technologies to life. At Fraunhofer IIS, we’re always thinking about potential applications for our technologies and it came up in conversation that many of them have a direct relationship to the production and enjoyment of coffee. Three-dimensional X-rays, AI systems and communications technology are just three of them. Our film shows concrete examples of these “cool” applications. The message we’re trying to get across, especially to younger people, is that technology always has a relationship to our immediate environment.


What other technologies can you imagine at the institute in conjunction with coffee?


Albert Heuberger: The film was made as part of a master’s thesis by a candidate who happens to know a lot about coffee and thought it would be interesting to use his hobby for his dissertation. When someone has a good idea, we’re happy to run with it. I’m sure that there are many more things at the institute that would lend themselves well to a future film. I can easily imagine that we might pursue technologies that could be applied to the roasting process.


The film conveys much more than that you personally place a lot of importance on coffee quality. A scene that stood out for me was the one in which you are having a very relaxed conversation with colleagues over a cup of coffee. What role does coffee actually play at Fraunhofer IIS?


Albert Heuberger: Conversations at the coffee machine can turn up some very creative ideas. So I think that coffee culture has a very special symbolism in a research context: open discussion, chance encounters, the stimulation that is associated with coffee. Again and again, this relaxed atmosphere generates new, good and surprising results. Offering shared spaces where people can meet is also important, which is why we established coworking spaces. And since a coffee bar atmosphere can be stimulating and beneficial, we added an espresso machine that makes pretty good coffee. Our employees enjoy going there and having a chat. 


The film is titled “Coffee Drives Innovation” – are you also someone who runs on coffee?


Albert Heuberger: Many people see drinking coffee as a driver of innovation and creativity. When people work long and hard, many like to drink coffee to keep themselves alert. And as I also like coffee and enjoy drinking good espresso, it’s a bonus that our research has applications in lots of areas that I find interesting. I also enjoy a good cup of tea, which immediately reminds me of another project we’re running at the institute about using AI to optimize tea blends. Maybe that will also make it into a film sometime.

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Further information


Series »Innovation driver: Coffee«


Smart Sensing and Electronics


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