"I am baffled by how the human intellect always finds ways to rekindle the phenomena of the laser"

Berthold Leibinger

60 years of lasers – a diamond anniversary. Diamond is a perfect symbol not only for the anniversary, one may say it is just as versatile and fascinating as the laser. But even more impressive was the symbol for the 40th anniversary at the turn of the millennium: Ruby, which was the active medium that Theodore Maiman successfully used to generate the very first beam of laser light on May 16, 1960. This date marks a technological breakthrough of a development that began in 1951 with Charles H. Townes’ idea for the Maser, the microwave precursor of the laser. The physical principle of stimulated emission of radiation has been known since 1917 with the publishing of Albert Einstein’s paper On the Quantum Theory of Radiation.

The foundation Berthold Leibinger Stiftung has the goal of promoting laser technology since 2000 with the innovation prize Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis and the research award Berthold Leibinger Zukunftspreis. Engineers, developers and scientists shall receive recognition and honor for exceptional work on laser technology. This is expressed by the high prize money, the inspiring award ceremonies and above all the spectacular prizewinner alumni. We showcase their fascinating work and wish to give insights into the myriads of possibilities of this technology with interesting films.

On the occasion of this special anniversary, we opened our rich treasure trove of 20 years of laser prizes and present some of the topics and people on this page.


Laser, in other words...

Prof. Dr. Charles H. Townes (†), member of the jury 2000-2004, Nobel Laureate and inventor of the maser, University of California at Berkeley.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Joachim Queisser, member of the jury 2000-2002, Max Planck Institute for Solid-State Physics

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America

Elizabeth Rogan, CEO of OSA – The Optical Society

Prof. Dr. Akira Matsunawa (†), member of the jury 2000-2004 Osaka University

Prof. Dr. Joachim Milberg, member of the jury 2000-2006, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the BMW AG

Gold magnate and villain in James Bond 007 - Goldfinger, 1964


"The laser can be considered to represent one of the most important (if not the most important) invention of last century."

After 60 years since its invention, the laser continues to create around itself a mixed atmosphere of curiosity and wonder. Curiosity mostly comes from the fact that new lasers are still being invented and new, quite fascinating, applications are continuously developed. Wonder essentially comes from the pervasive character of the laser: there is, in fact, no field of science and technology which has not been influenced, often fundamentally, by this revolutionary invention. 

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of this invention, we will here review the early beginning of laser developments, with anecdotes and curiosities derived by the author’s personal experience.

Read here: Orazio Svelto on the history of the laser


Artificial Stars

The Very Large Telescope of ESO (European Southern Observatory) located in South America at the Atacama Desert in 2635 meters altitude shows four orange laser guide star beams. Elevation and dry air conditions here are perfect for terrestrial telescopes. The Laser Guide Star Alliance established by Toptica, MPB Communication and ESO developed new laser technology, that helps astronomers to make sharper images of objects in space using laser guide stars. They were rewarded with third prize in the 2016 Berthold Leibinger innovation prize contest.

Chirped-Pulse-Amplification (CPA) und extreme light sources

Gérard Mourou is considered as the “father” of high and ultra-high intensity electromagnetic fields. He supported numerous developments of laser centers worldwide und initiated the European Extreme Light Infrastructure ELI. For his invention of the Chirped-Pulse-Amplification (CPA) he received the 2016 Berthold Leibinger Zukunftspreis and two years later together with Donna Strickland the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Laser beams „stamp“ microstructures

Laser add a high degree of flexibility. Frank Mücklich and Andres Lasagni and their groups, use this special ability to create surfaces with functional properties. Their method of Direct Laser Interference Patterning (DLIP) creates extensive structures in nano and micro scale on versatile surfaces, using multiple laser beams. The scope of application is endless: Efficiency increasement of solar cells, fail-safe plug-in connectors, disinfectant surfaces.The project goup won the 2016 Innovation prize for this innovative idea and realization.

Laser in the Development and Implementation of Optogenetics

Karl Deisseroth, is one of the founder of Optogenetics, a new field of science. He was honored 2018 with the Berthold Leibinger Zukunftspreis by Otmar Wiestler. Deisseroth is bioengineer and psychiatrist. His goal: understand how the human brain works what malfunctions of this organ underlie psychiatric diseases and be able to provide better help for patients .

Optoacoustic Diagnostics for Breast Cancer

Have you ever thought about using laser technology for diagnostics of breast cancer? Yes, would be the answer of Alexander Oraevsky and he would explain how to use light and sound to “see” thru tissue of human body to distinguish between benign and malignant tumors. His solution uses nanosecond laser pulses which generate ultrasonic waves inside the tissue, named optoacoustic. The trick: the created signals give information on aspects like oxygen saturation. Oraevsky deservedly won 2014 the Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis.

Laser Light Headlamps

With Helmut Erdl and Abdelmalek Hanafi started the introduction of a new laser technology in the plug-in hybrid sports car BMW i8. They used a very natural property of light: illumination. Diode lasers as light source can be used to shine a collimated beam of light into the far distance. Obviously perfect for automotive high beam headlights. They both were honored in 2014 with the Innovationpreis.

Optical Nanoscopy with Ultra-Short Pulse Laser

For centuries, the light microscope has aided research into small and invisible structures. However, optical microscopes have limitations. Structures smaller than half a thousandth of a millimeter cannot be observed with conventional microscopes. But Stefan Hell came to deal with this matter of the optical resolution limitation. With his richness of invention and use of latest laser technology he succeeded with Nobel Prize-deserving breakthrough in the optical microscopy. The STED fluorescence microscopy provided images of what goes on inside of living cells for the very first time. Therefore, Stefan Hell, Marcus Dyba and Alexander Eger were awarded with the Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis in 2002. Later Hell won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with Eric Betzig and William Moerner.

Laser for optical discs

Optical discs from CDs to Blu-Ray have long played a key role in the distribution of music, movies and software. The increasing storage capacity from 700 megabytes to 100 gigabytes and above always based on advancing laser technology. Equally demanding and important is the backward compatibility of each new generation of the drives. Osamu Kumagai, responsible for the laser development at Sony, played an important role in this development. Reason enough for the jury to honor him with the Berthold Leibinger Zukunftspreis 2012.

The Photonic Crystal Fibre

Philip Russel opened up an exciting area of research in the early 1990’s by inventing a new class of optical fibre, the photonic crystal fibre. This clever idea turned out to have wide ranging implications in laser technology. From telecommunication to sensors up to the application as light transport fibre for high-energy or ultrashort laser pulses in material processing. For his impressive work he was honored in 2014 with the Berthold Leibinger Zukunftspreis.

Listening with Light

Balthasar Fischer is physicist, sound engineer – and pianist, good hearing is of great significance. However, the human ear is limited to a fraction of the acoustic frequencies. Straddling both worlds, those of sound and physics, he developed the idea of a membrane-free microphone which has a 60 times larger range than human perception: By measuring the periodic changes in the propagation speed of a laser beam between two mirrors that occur when sound waves pass through them. This clever technique won the 2016 Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis.



Since 2004, the Berthold Leibinger Foundation has been presenting its prize winners in cinematic portraits. Here we present a changing selection of teasers. You can watch all teasers on our website here or on our Youtube channel leibingerlaserprize.