Press Releases

Digital archiving of archeological finds

ENIGMA receives CT scans

In November 2020 and January 2021, a number of ENIGMA systems were found in the Baltic Sea and Schlei. These were purely accidental finds, as the research divers were actually pursuing other tasks - the recovery of ghost nets and a propeller. ENIGMA is the name given to the cipher machine used by the Germans before and during World War II. In a collaboration between the Schleswig-Holstein State Archaeological Office (ALSH) and the new Fraunhofer Research Institution for Individualized and Cell-Based Medical Engineering IMTE in Lübeck, these finds are now being made accessible to digital planning for restoration and long-term archiving through high-resolution computed tomography.

The ENIGMA was used to encrypt the Wehrmacht's message traffic during World War II. The fact that several specimens are now being examined in detail in Lübeck is a link to computer science, one of the main areas of research at the Lübeck BioMedTec Science Campus. It was one of the founding fathers of computer science and the leading figure of the British codebreakers in Bletchley Park, Alan Turing, who was finally able to decode the ENIGMA with his team.

At the end of the Second World War, these devices were immediately rendered useless in the event of imminent defeat and simply thrown overboard by the navy. The state of preservation of the devices now found in the Baltic Sea around the turn of the year is still unclear, however, because the silt of the Baltic Sea has filled every cavity of the devices compactly over the decades at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Together with the salt water, however, this provided an extremely favorable environment for their preservation. The challenge now lies in their non-destructive restoration and research. Here, modern computed tomography can give a three-dimensional view of the interior, allowing archaeological conservators to navigate through the layers of silt.

Against this background, ALSH is cooperating with the new Fraunhofer Research Institution for Individualized and Cell-based Medical Engineering IMTE in Lübeck. Fraunhofer IMTE actually works in the field of integrated development of patient-specific solutions for diagnostic and therapeutic applications. This includes competencies in imaging, 3D printing and artificial intelligence, among others. In this cross-disciplinary project with archaeology, expertise in the areas of computed tomography, data science, and visualization play central roles.

"The digital archiving of ENIGMA is only the prelude to a longer-term cooperation between the two institutions," says Prof. Thorsten Buzug, Director of Fraunhofer IMTE. "The aim is to establish new methods and virtual display formats with other archaeological finds," because at the end of the day, archaeological forensics is technically very similar to medical diagnostics. "The ENIGMA devices are archaeological finds that are recorded, examined, researched and published by the Archaeological Office of Schleswig-Holstein in cooperation with the finders and experts", emphasizes the head of the ALSH, Dr. Ulf Ickerodt. "We are glad to have found a regional scientific partner in Fraunhofer IMTE, with whom the restoration of such finds can be better planned." The finds will then finally be restored and exhibited at the Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf. 

© Fraunhofer IMTE
One of the investigated Enigma models.
© Fraunhofer IMTE
The Enigma in a CT scanner.
© Fraunhofer IMTE
Dr. Ulf Ickerodt (left) and Prof. Thorsten Buzug (right) show the results of a CT scan.

Start of the High-Performance Center Medical and Pharmaceutical Engineering in northern Germany

The aim of the Fraunhofer High-Performance Centers is to speed up innovation transfer. In March 2021, the High-Performance Center Medical and Pharmaceutical Engineering was launched. With a focus on personalized implants and respiratory systems as well as individualized pharmaceutical production, the goal is to create a platform for research and the transfer of innovations into patient care.

Under the leadership of the Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine ITEM in Hannover, the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST in Braunschweig and the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Individualized and Cell-Based Medical Engineering IMTE in Lübeck have joined forces to form the High-Performance Center Medical and Pharmaceutical Engineering. "With this High-Performance Center, we want to close the gap between basic research and the practical use in patients: in other words, to manage the transfer from research, including process and production optimization, to proof-of-concept and clinical trials, with patient safety being top priority. By acting together as a one-stop shop, we will help companies navigate the choke point of translation," explains Prof. Theodor Doll, member of the management team of the High-Performance Center and Head of Department of Implant Systems at Fraunhofer ITEM.

Further partners include several companies as well as site-specific research partners such as the Hannover Medical School (MHH), the Leibniz University Hannover (LUH), the Lower Saxony Center for Biomedical Engineering, Implant Research and Development (NIFE), Technische Universität Braunschweig with its Center of Pharmaceutical Engineering (PVZ), and the BioMedTec Science Campus in Lübeck with the University of Lübeck, TH Lübeck, and the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH).

In the future, the partners will be collaborating in the joint transfer infrastructure to serve as a point of contact in northern Germany in the fields of biomedical engineering and pharmaceutical technology for external industry and research partners. To this end, the partners will set up so-called translation laboratories, where crucial steps in process and product development and in regulated product testing can be accomplished. "During a start-up phase, a testing laboratory will be set up at Fraunhofer IMTE in Lübeck to support in particular the development of processes for certification and conformity assessment of medical devices in preparation for clinical testing and market launch," explains Prof. Thorsten Buzug, Executive Director of the Fraunhofer Research Institution IMTE.

In parallel, the High-Performance Center will establish scaling platforms that will enable testing of respiratory technology, validation of 3D printing technology taking into account biocompatibility, and testing of long-term functionality of neural implants. In addition, the consortium's combined know-how on regulatory requirements for pharmaceuticals and medical devices provides the necessary background to support regulatory affairs. “The High-Performance Center Medical and Pharmaceutical Engineering is an ideal setting for us to pool our Fraunhofer expertise with that of our local research partners and industry and thus quickly put innovative ideas into practice," says Prof. Michael Thomas, Head of Department of Atmospheric Pressure Processes at Fraunhofer IST.

The Fraunhofer High-Performance Centers are transfer-oriented. They bring together competent partners and as innovation guides help navigate ideas to market launch. They represent excellent, cross-organizational use of infrastructure, continuing education concepts and know-how. With its strengths in neurotechnology, inhalation technology and pharmaceutical process engineering and with the expertise available at the sites in Lübeck, Braunschweig and Hannover, for example in the fields of imaging, additive manufacturing of precision medicine devices, drug formulation and aerosol technology, the High-Performance Center Medical and Pharmaceutical Engineering addresses the future-oriented field of health.

Press contact

Fraunhofer ITEM
Dr. Cathrin Nastevska
Phone +49 511 5350-225

Technical contact

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Theodor Doll
Fraunhofer ITEM
Phone +49 511 5350-248


© Fraunhofer IMTE | Dr. Thomas Friedrich
Patient-specific implants and respiratory systems as well as individualized pharmaceutical production are at the focus of research and innovation transfer facilitated by the High-Performance Center Medical and Pharmaceutical Engineering.