The European Research Council (ERC) is supporting the team led by GFZ researcher Dirk Sachse with a 'proof of concept' grant. The funding of 150,000 euros will serve to bring an automated rainwater sampler as close as possible to the market. For Dirk Sachse, it is the second ERC grant after his 'Consolidator Grant'. Together with Christoff Andermann, Torsten Queißer and Markus Reich, a prototype has been developed that has already passed extensive tests. "The idea came from Christoff, he then pushed ahead with the construction of the prototype with our engineers Torsten and Markus," reports Dirk Sachse, "Torsten took care of the electronic control and Markus provided the design and technical implementation".
The idea behind the device sounds simple at first: in order to continuously collect samples of rainwater even in rough regions, you set up an automated collector. But the devil is in the detail. How are the samples separated and conserved so that tiny differences in the isotopic composition can be analyzed months later? How does the energy supply work? And how robust does the 'sampler' have to be to survive half a year in the high mountains, for example in Nepal? The solution to all these questions has been on the roof of the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA in Vienna for the past six months and before that on the measuring meadow of the Telegrafenberg in Potsdam. The device looks like a conventional plastic travel case, with handle and wheels, with a large funnel next to it. The inner life, however, is highly complex - and secret, as a patent is also pending.
But who but a handful of researchers should use such a rainwater sampler? Dirk Sachse and Christoff Andermann immediately come up with application examples: "After chemical accidents, the apparatus can be used for environmental monitoring," says Dirk Sachse. Samples could be taken at defined intervals - about every hour or even every few days. Or the continuous monitoring of drinking water sources can be automated or remotely controlled. Christoff Andermann adds: "The investigation of rain on radioactive substances is also possible." That's why they sent the sampler to Vienna for a test. Public authorities, companies, and other scientists: these are the target groups the GFZ team has in mind. In the next few months more samplers will be built to test them for the different applications. The 'proof of concept' grant comes at the right time. What particularly pleases the team around Dirk Sachse: In this round, only two of these ERC fundings went to Germany. Theirs is one of them.