"It Is Exciting to See in How Many Different Areas We Can Contribute With Our Research"

Prof. Dr. Anita Schöbel in an Interview on the Corona Crisis

Prof. Dr. Anita Schöbel has been director of the Fraunhofer ITWM for a good year now. The corona crisis also poses completely new challenges for the ITWM. In an interview she talks about current developments, new projects and the current work at the institute:

What is the Fraunhofer ITWM already contributing to fighting the corona crisis? Which activities are planned next?

Several research projects have already started and many more are in the planning stage. In a special corona overview on our website, we will in future collect all the news about the topic on which we can already report.

It is exciting to see in how many very different areas we can contribute with mathematical research to overcome the corona crisis. The first thing that comes to mind is of course mathematical models for simulating the spread of Covid-19. Several of our departments are working on this. It's all about analyzing the data, determining the parameters and the actual simulation, for which we have extended existing simulation models. The results and visualizations based on these models can then be used to evaluate possible measures and select the best ones.

A completely different area concerns protective clothing: How can certifiable protective clothing be produced? How long does a respirator last before it becomes wet?  We can also provide support for medical applications, e.g. microradiological examinations of the lungs to detect Covid-19 or the construction of completely new rapid test procedures and their automated evaluation.

Yet another area concerns the planning of reliable logistics chains to maintain supply.  The ITWM can also contribute expertise in this area.

Do you see tendencies in the economy that completely new topics are gaining importance in the wake of the corona pandemic – if so, which ones?

Afterwards, as a society, we will evaluate what went well and how we can better prepare for similar crises. Many things have already worked out well in Germany: the supply of the population is working, the health system has not been overburdened so far. We will learn from the things that have not worked out so well. I assume that the pandemic plans will be revised and the reporting system improved. We can take our time to develop new tools to analyze and evaluate the reported data and, based on this, develop better simulations. But stockpiling also needs to be reconsidered: Which system-critical production should be brought back to Germany, how much of which products should be stored and what can be additionally produced or redistributed in case of a crisis? Our institute can and will also participate in all these questions.

Anita Schöbel wird unsere neue Institutsleiterin.
© Fraunhofer ITWM
Anita Schöbel, director of the Fraunhofer ITWM in conversation.

Are there any approaches at the ITWM to change project acquisition, e.g. to offer existing customers more new topics from the corona environment?

First of all, we continue to offer our expertise as usual, as in times of no crisis, and many of our projects continue to run as normal at the moment. Some of our clients are suffering from the corona crisis, while others are even busier at the moment. We have offered to support our clients during the Corona period, even at very short notice, if we can help somewhere.

In the newly launched corona research projects, our main concern is to help and support in overcoming the corona crisis. However, the expertise developed in the process will of course be retained after the crisis, and if it can be used in other areas, we will certainly do so.

Do you expect that the Corona crisis will change our working world forever? What changes do you see in the ITWM in this context?

We will be more aware of how to deal with travel and will be more critical of when we really need to be on site, now that we have learned to integrate video conferencing seamlessly into our everyday work. Digitalization has received a major boost and offers new possibilities. This will certainly be maintained and will also benefit us in the future when acquiring new projects. And we can now better assess the advantages and disadvantages of home office. I'm already very excited to see what activities we will be doing from home in the future.

ILA video conference
© Fraunhofer ITWM
Working from the home office: The ITWM's management team currently meets weekly via video conference in the Institute Steering Committee (ILA). The screenshot shows Anita Schöbel in the upper left corner.

You have been in your home office for a few weeks now: How do you structure your working day at home? Do you have tips for the home office?

I used to work a lot on the road or from home in the evenings, which is nothing new for me. At the moment, creativity and pragmatism are needed to make working at home as pleasant as possible, so I like to use my private IT equipment at short notice: my husband had a monitor and a keyboard for me, which complement my notebook very well, so that I can work comfortably. Because of my many video conferences, I have set up a quiet workplace in my daughter's former room and enjoy the collages and photos from her school days.

I do not have a fixed structure for my day; the many new requirements and projects would not stick to it anyway! But I like to be out in the fresh air during lunch break for walking or cycling or I enjoy the sun in the garden. My tip: Continue to be brave and stay at home, chat with colleagues on our chat system mattermost and don't read corona statistics all day long.