Materials science

The University of Tartu is one of the world’s most influential materials-science research centres, ranking in the top one percentile of such institutions in Thomson Reuters’ Essential Science Indicators database. Here are some examples of the University’s success.

Materials chemistry

The University of Tartu Institute of Chemistry is one of the world’s leading centres in designing superacids that are used in synthesising new ionic liquids. Current research focuses on the electrochemical properties of nanoporous carbon and modified carbon, electrical double layers, and hybrid supercapacitors.

Other lines of research include mid-temperature solid oxide fuel cells and low-temperature fuel cells, as well as the development of materials synthesis using computer modelling.

In this work, the University has partnered with the world’s leading scientific centres and corporations. Examples of the latter include Toyota, Nissan, Samsung, and General Motors Global Research.

Materials physics

The University of Tartu Institute of Physics pursues research into crystalline and amorphous solids, especially dielectric materials and semiconductors, surface and transport layer spectrosopy, difraction and microscopy methods. As a result improved surface materials, such as functional surface materials and semiconductor gas sensors, will be developed.


Graphene is considered to have the most potential to replace silicon in the future. At the Institute of Physics, materials scientists explore ways to cover graphene’s chemically inert surface with a superthin isolator layer — so that graphene’s excellent electrical properties remain intact. Such structures will come in handy in nanoelectronic devices of the future.


Teams at the University of Tartu Institute of Physics also study nanostructured oxide materials, carbon nanotubes and their hybrid systems, low-dimensional optical structures and nano-optics. In addition, researchers analyse nanomechanical processes, radiation effects on functional materials.

Solar energy

A significant centre of solar-energy research is the Institute of Materials Science at the Tallinn University of Technology. Scientists there conduct fundamental and applied research into solar-energy converters. They also develop and test new, cheaper solar panels.

Strategic investment

The Estonian state has adopted an infrastructure renewal program for nanomaterials science that helps pay for state-of-the-art equipment. By 2020, the country will open a magnetic-field laboratory. Led by the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics, the lab will house several superconducting magnets, together with compatible spectrometry and measurement systems.

Pan-European projects

MAX-IV synchotron accelerator

To advance the promise of Estonian materials science, The University of Tartu Institute of Physics works with Lund University in Sweden on synchotron radiation. Construction on MAX-IV synchotron accelerator is under way, with a dedicated channel set aside for Estonia. It will cover a photon energy range from a few dozen electronvolts to a couple of thousand. The channel will enable spectroscopic studies of gases as well as solid nanostructures.

The European Spallation Source

Estonia is a full partner in the European Spallation Source which is being built next to the MAX-IV synchotron in Lund. The ESS is a multidisciplinary research centre based on the world’s most powerful neutron source. When completed, this facility will be around 30 times brighter than today’s leading facilities and will remain the most cost-effective neutron radiation device for 40 years. Estonia’s participation in the project is led by professor Enn Lust at the University of Tartu.