Laser Prizes

Four innovations and one future prize – award ceremony for the 2016 Berthold Leibinger laser prizes

The ninth awards ceremony for the internationally noted honors for applied laser technology of the Berthold Leibinger Foundation in Ditzingen took place on Friday, September 9, 2016.

Together with 700 guests, the Berthold Leibinger Stiftung celebrated the ninth presentation of its laser prizes on September 9, 2016. The jury awarded four innovation prizes and Professor Gérard Mourou received the Berthold Leibinger Zukunftspreis (future prize). The awards come with the following prize money: 30,000 euros for the Zukunftspreis and first prize, 20,000 euros for each of the two second prizes, and 10,000 euros for the third prize.

The event was opened by foundation founder and former managing partner of the TRUMPF Group, Professor Berthold Leibinger. He was very pleased to see that the auditorium was filled to the last seat. “The Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis is the most important work of this foundation, and so I am grateful to see that the awards ceremony is receiving so much attention from the general public.” Following his speech, Elizabeth Rogan, Chief Executive Officer of OSA The Optical Society, gave a history of the innovations that have been made in optics and photonics over the last 100 years. Professor Friedemann Schrenk, Head of the Paleoanthropology Section of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (Senckenberg Society for Nature Research) in Frankfurt, held the ceremonial address. In his presentation “Origins, Breakthroughs, Expansions: 6 Million Years of Human History”, he talked about the latest findings on the evolutionary development of early humans. He had a surprising message for the audience: the differentiation of prehistoric humans from their ancestors did not only happen through a use of tools, it was based on the ability to work together socially. He also discussed the subject of migration. Since prehistoric times, a number of migration waves across the globe have shaped humanity and led to its further development. “According to an anthropological time scale, migration barriers do not exist, there is only a joint development of humanity,” Prof. Schrenk said.

As in the preceding years, the awards presentation itself began with film portraits of the prizewinners and their work, followed by a laudation held by a jury member. The prizewinners were chosen during a jury meeting last May. Four of the eight finalists were able to convince the jury, which is why the jurors awarded two second prizes.

Since 2006, the Berthold Leibinger Zukunftspreis has been honoring one scientist for outstanding contributions to applied laser technology. In 2016, this honor was awarded to French professor Gérard Mourou of the École Polytechnique. Due to his invention of “Chirped Pulse Amplification” (CPA) at the University of Rochester, NY, in collaboration with his student Donna Strickland, Mourou is considered the “father” of electromagnetic fields of high and ultra-high intensity fields, as laudator Ursula Keller said while explaining the jury’s choice. This technology enables the amplification of short laser pulses to extremely high peak power. With CPA, Mourou pioneered the field of femtosecond ophthalmology with more than one million patients a year today, and revolutionized the field of high intensity lasers. Most recently, he initiated Europe’s Extreme Light Infrastructure ELI in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. The first prize of the innovation award was presented to Swiss physicist Dr. Balthasar Fischer by Professor Wolfgang Marquardt. Fischer developed a membrane-free microphone at Vienna University of Technology that can hear through light. Marketed through Fischer’s company Xarion Laser Acoustics, the microphone is now finding applications in non-destructive metrology and the process control of machine tools. The microphone is also ideal for use as a sensor for optoacoustic imaging in biomedical engineering.

One of the second prizes was awarded to the founder of the company Crystalline Mirror Solutions, Dr. Garrett Cole from Santa Barbara, CA, and Dr. Markus Aspelmeyer, professor at the University of Vienna. They developed crystalline semiconductor coatings for mirrors, which for example can improve the precision of optical atomic clocks by orders of magnitude. Their mirrors have revolutionized the world of optical high precision measurement. For this, they were awarded one of the two second prizes by Professor Theodor Hänsch, Physics Nobel Prize laureate from 2005.

A further second prize was awarded to a total of twelve scientists from Saarbrücken and Dresden led by Professor Frank Mücklich and Professor Andrés-Fabián Lasagni. Mücklich’s working groups at Saarland University as well as the Steinbeis Forschungszentrum Material Engineering Center Saarland and Lasagni’s working groups at the Fraunhofer Institute for Materials and Beam Technology and at the Dresden University of Technology researched and developed the processes and laser systems to quickly and economically generate tiny micropatterns and nanopatterns using the effect of laser interference. Surfaces functionalized in this manner can reduce friction to a large extent or they can kill bacteria and thus reduce the transmission of germs. This technology will also be used to increase the reliability of electrical plug-in connections, such as in automobiles.

A total of 33 developers of the Laser Guide Star Alliance are the winners of the third prize, which was awarded by Professor H. Jeffrey Kimble. Their high-power laser system is one of the key elements used in the construction of contemporary large telescopes on Earth. Based on earlier patented work and prototypes by ESO, the international industrial consortium of TOPTICA in Garching and MPB Communications in Montreal, Canada, jointly developed a novel laser system. This technology offers advantages for the tracking of satellites and the detection of space debris as well as further applications. The respective groups were headed by Dr. Wilhelm Kaenders from TOPTICA, Dr. Wallace Clements from MPB and Dr. Domenico Bonaccini Calia from ESO. The social part of the event began after the awards ceremony. The colorful mix of guests from society and politics, science and business, laser companies and laser users celebrated with the prizewinners and made new contacts while catching up with acquaintances. The next awards ceremony will take place in two years, in 2018, on the third Friday in September. Applications for the innovation award may be submitted until December 31, 2017.


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Sven Ederer