Interviews with former Winners

Timo Eckstein

Winner in the Category Master Thesis, 2019


»Measurement and simulation of ultrafast optical phase-controlled 2-coloured coherent electron interference in monolayer graphene«

What induced you to your field of research and the topic of your thesis?

In my bachelor thesis I designed and tested an electron spectrometer for the laser accelerator experiment of the FAU Chair of Laser Physics. One option would certainly have been to continue the topic of my bachelor thesis and thus to prove the photon order of the laser acceleration concept of ponderomotor scattering in free space. However, I wanted to face new challenges and decided instead to investigate how the short period of optical light can be used to control electrons on these time scales.


What was the topic of your thesis? What fascinated and inspired you about it?

Presented in a simple and abstract way, I explored how fast one can switch electricity and thus process information. The long-term idea is to use light not only for fast data transport as before, but also for ultra-fast data processing. In current quantum computer models, light is already being used as an information carrier, so that light represents a natural interface to the quantum mechanical variant in classical data processing. In abstract terms, this leads to the groundbreaking future concept of replacing electrons with light as a technology carrier, at least in part - in other words, replacing electronics with photonics.

How did you become aware of the Applied Photonics Award and what motivated you to participate?

After I received the local department award for my bachelor thesis, I asked myself whether there is a more competitive, Germany-wide call for proposals in the area of master theses. I already knew from the DPG's spring meetings that there are nationwide DPG awards in experimental and theoretical physics for dissertations; however, there is no nationwide DPG award for master's and bachelor's theses at universities. This is how I became aware of the Photonics Days Jena and the Applied Photonics Award, probably also through the Max Planck School of Photonics. It was clear to me that I had to apply in order to at least try to make a step "up" with my master thesis.

What does the Applied Photonics Award mean to you?

Pure joy. My experiment of my master thesis did not work out as I had imagined it for a long time for many different reasons. In the course of time I had to rebuild it three times completely from scratch to improve it and add more components. But one evening I could finally see the desired measurement signal. Therefore, the award is also a very important symbol for me that hard work, patience and ambition pays off.

Would you recommend participation in the award?

Definitely. As I've said before, no guts, no glory. Of course, it is especially nice to win in the end and to receive the prize in a unique atmosphere with the 2018 Nobel Prize winner in physics Gérard Mourou and Zeiss CEO Michael Kaschke.

What are your plans for the future?
First of all a doctorate. Winning the Applied Photonics Award 2019 as a recognition of my previous work is certainly very helpful for the applications and a clear unique selling point.

Research is not only hard work, but also a life-task and fulfillment. Excitement is pre-programmed when it comes to pushing the boundaries of what is known and to recognizing and solving puzzles, questions, problems that no one has ever faced before. Therefore I hope to be able to continue to deal with this daily in the long term.

Patrick Taschner

Winner in the Category Bachelor Thesis, 2019


»Schnelle Strahlablenkung mittels akustooptischer Deflektion zur Laser-Mikrobearbeitung«

(Fast beam deflection by acousto-optical deflection for laser micromachining)



What induced you to your field of research and the topic of your thesis?

Chance or fate. I came to the field of research via an internship at the Laser Zentrum Hannover. It challenged me to program and build an FPGA-based delay generator in two months without any significant electronic or programming skills. Against many expectations, the development was more than successful and I was encouraged to tackle particularly demanding topics. When it was time for the bachelor thesis, I asked my department about topics that there were to work on. I chose the topic that was most challenging for me.


What was the topic of your thesis? What fascinated and inspired you about it?

My bachelor thesis is about scanners for laser micromachining, where the highest precision and high process speed are required. The development of more powerful ultrashort pulse lasers with high pulse repetition rates requires the use of fast scanners so that the process can be scaled. However, many commercial systems are not up to the task. Therefore, a combination of an acousto-optical deflector and a galvanometer scanner, in which the best of both worlds was successfully combined, was the most appropriate solution. Particularly exciting for me was the interdisciplinary work in the field of programming, electronics, control, regulation and at the end to merge all areas to a successful process.


How did you become aware of the Applied Photonics Award and what motivated you to participate?

I learned about the Applied Photonics Award and the Photonics Days from my department head at that time after he had already left the Laser Zentrum Hannover, by forwarding an e-mail to my supervisor. It was very short notice to complete all necessary documents and get the professor's signature by the deadline within only 4 days. I was particularly motivated by the opportunity to present my work to a wider audience and thus give the topic greater relevance.


What does the Applied Photonics Award mean to you? Would you recommend participation in the award?

Before the award ceremony, I did not really know what has awaited me. In hindsight, it gave me recognition and network with new people and companies. For me, it is a gigantic motivation to remain faithful to the academic path. In any case, the successful participation in the award is a milestone in my life, which I will certainly remember frequently and gladly.

I strongly recommend the price to every student. After all, you cannot lose anything when you participate. Every person who has put heart and soul into their work should seize this opportunity and see where the journey takes them.


What are your plans for the future?

My work is currently taking me away from the earth: in the Moonrise project, 3D printing is brought to the moon by using a laser to melt the lunar regolith. For this, I develop space-suitable boards and software. Afterwards, I will continue my results of the bachelor thesis in a perennial Eurostars project.

Germann Hergert

Winner in the Category Master Thesis, 2018



(Ultra-short time point projection electron microscopy.)


What induced you to your field of research and the topic of your thesis?

I started to study physics in Oldenburg right after graduating from high school. There I already found by talking to a Ph.D. student an exciting topic in ultrafast laser physics for my bachelor thesis. This field and the work in the laboratory have inspired me so much that I have also aligned my master’s degree and the associated thesis accordingly.


What was the topic of your thesis? What fascinated and inspired you about it?

In my master thesis, I built an electron microscope with a spatial-temporal resolution unequaled anywhere in the world. For this, I used a laser-driven, novel electron source, which was developed in our working group at the University of Oldenburg. For the work on the microscope, I had to deal with nanomaterials, ultrafast lasers, and vacuum technology - this variety of different areas made the topic exciting and varied. At the same time, I was able to contribute to expanding the possibilities in microscopy. Currently, I use the microscope for my Ph.D. as well, to learn more about charge and energy transfer processes and to improve my understanding of light-harvesting complexes or organic solar cells.


What does the Applied Photonics Award mean to you?

The award from a Fraunhofer Institute, especially in the field of optics, is a great honor that is also reflected in my curriculum vitae. Besides, the award underlines the relevance of my topic and strengthens me, even more, to continue my research in this field. I will use the prize money soon for a longer vacation. But where the journey should go is not clear yet.


Would you recommend the participation in the award?

I recommend the participation in any case, since not only the award itself is a large acknowledgment, but also the evening event, at which the award is presented, was a special experience. In addition, one has the opportunity to participate in the Photonics Days and visit the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering as well as the laboratories in Jena.

Dr. Stefan Heist

Winner in the Category Best Dissertation, 2018


"Hochgeschwindigkeits-3D-Formvermessung mittels aperiodischer Sinus-Muster"

(High-speed 3D shape measurement using aperiodic sinusoidal patterns.)


What induced you to your field of research and the topic of your thesis?

During my physics studies at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, a fellow student enthusiastically told me about his part-time job as a scientific assistant at the Fraunhofer IOF. After that, I also started as a scientific assistant in the working group "3D measuring systems". First, I was allowed to help with the construction of various 3D sensors and the creation of presentation materials, before I was involved in the characterization and development of new measuring systems. Due to the exciting topic, the practical relevance and the great working atmosphere, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. at the Fraunhofer IOF in cooperation with the Institute for Applied Physics.


What was the topic of your thesis? What fascinated and inspired you about it?

In my dissertation, I dealt with the optical high-speed 3D shape measurement. While fast optical 3D sensors are more and more part of our everyday life - just think of facial recognition in smartphones or obstacle detection systems in modern cars - some applications place even harder demands on both the measuring accuracy and the measuring speed. For example, to capture airbag deployments, crash tests, production parts on an assembly line or athletes in motion, hundreds to thousands of highly accurate 3D models must be generated per second. This is exactly what I was able to achieve during my Ph.D. by developing new methods and superstructures - and thus make a small contribution to the progress of this promising topic.


What does the Applied Photonics Award mean to you?

The Applied Photonics Award means a lot to me because it expresses the recognition and importance of my own work. At the same time, I see it as an incentive to keep up with this topic, which is obviously also of great interest to other scientists - especially since the principles and structures developed offer great potential for further applications and investigations. The fact that, in addition to the award, there is also a chunk of prize money is, of course, a nice side effect. With some of the money, I was able to fulfill a dream for my dad and myself: a joint trip to one of the completely sold-out shows "Springsteen on Broadway" in New York City.


Would you recommend the participation in the award?

I recommend everyone to take the chance and apply for the Applied Photonics Award. After all, you have nothing to lose, you can only win: participation in an evening event with tasty food and the opportunity to talk to other people from the photonics industry; the award itself with the associated recognition and the positive effects on your CV; and not to forget, of course, the handsome sum of prize money.

Dr. Martin Steglich

2nd Place in the Category Dissertation, 2017


"Black Silicon mittels ICP-RIE und seine Anwendungen in Optik und Optoelektronik"

(Black Silicon by ICP-RIE and its Applications in Optics and Optoelectronics)


What induced you to your field of research and the topic of your thesis?

I began my physics studies at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena in 2005 and completed them without any detours in autumn 2010. My diploma thesis was about silicon solar cells. Because I found the topic so exciting, I decided after my studies not to take the direct way into the industry and instead started a Ph.D. at the Institute for Applied Physics (IAP) in Jena in the field of semiconductor sensors and microstructuring. The core topic of my Ph.D. was the production and application of a nanostructure called "Black Silicon". The IAP was and is a worldwide pioneer in this field. That was a strong motivation for me: to be at the forefront of a topic and to carry out innovative, application-relevant research. What could be more exciting?


What was the topic of your thesis? What fascinated and inspired you about it?

My work was about a stochastic anti-reflective structure in silicon called black silicone. This structure can be produced in a comparatively simple, inexpensive process, which is very advantageous for an industrial application in high technology. Accordingly, there has always been a great deal of interest in my work, even outside the scientific community, and several interesting, application-oriented industrial projects. This has always been a good motivation for me because there is always the hope of great success: that one day Black Silicon will be used as a standard in sensors and will thus open new doors.


What does the Green Photonics Junior Award meant to you, especially for your further studies and your career?

I learned about the prize from the e-mail announcement and thought: Why not? I could not estimate my chances in advance. Of course, I was very happy about the prize; after all, it is very well remunerated. Soon I will be on the road with my family for a longer holiday. This can be co-financed with the prize money. And it is also nice to win such a prize away from this. In the end, this confirms that you have done a good job, which is appreciated by others. Besides, of course, it does well in the CV.


Would you recommend the participation in the award?

Why not? If you think you have written a good piece of work in the field of photonics, then there is no harm in trying. Since the prize is awarded with high publicity, it can certainly also earn you some reputation - and of course the prize money.

Dr. Sebastian Schmitt

2nd Place in the Category Dissertation, 2016


"Design and Fabrication of Silicon Photonic Building Blocks for Optoelectronic Devices"


What induced you to your field of research and the topic of your thesis?

After my physics studies in Heidelberg, I worked for some time in the photovoltaic industry, where my interest in light-matter interactions was awakened. At the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA) I gained my first experience in nanotechnology, whereupon I decided to do my Ph.D. in nanophotonics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Erlangen. I have always been interested in natural sciences, but I am also a hobbyist and creative problem solver. My work unites these interests, which is why I still enjoy doing it today.


What was the topic of your thesis? What fascinated and inspired you about it?

In my doctoral thesis, I dealt with the measurement and numerical analysis of photonic modes in nanoscopic silicon building blocks. I did all the development steps myself - from the production of the photonic structures to the theoretical description of the modes. What I was most enthusiastic about was how modern technologies can be used to produce and measure such tiny structures, and with what precision the interaction between light and matter can be optimized even on the smallest scales. I have discovered a new, very small area of the world that has changed my view of many things, even everyday ones.


What does the Green Photonics Junior Award meant to you, especially for your further studies and your career?

I heard about the award ceremony via a circular mail. Since the application criteria fit very well to my subject area around photonics and photovoltaics, I applied without further ado. I was surprised to win the award, especially when I heard about the many other very good applications. For me, the award is a confirmation that I have pursued a relevant topic in an innovative and factually correct way during my Ph.D. I cannot say whether it had a direct impact on my career, but it certainly did not have a negative impact. From the prize money, I booked my girlfriend and myself a course for kitesurfing on Fuerteventura!


Would you recommend the participation in the award?

I would recommend the participation. The evaluation by the scientific committee allowed me to draw important conclusions about the relevance of my work.

Torsten Büchner

1st Place in the Category Bachelor, Master, Diploma, 2015


"Charakterisierung von mit Femtosekundenlasern erzeugten Mikrostrukturen im Glasvolumen für das Lichtmanagement in Solarmodulen"

(Characterization of microstructures generated by femtosecond lasers in the glass volume for light management in solar modules)


What induced you to your field of research and the topic of your thesis?

After graduating from high school, I started my dual Bachelor's degree in "Solar Technology" at Anhalt University in cooperation with the local photovoltaic industry in the german federal state Sachsen-Anhalt. As a student at the Fraunhofer Center for Silicon Photovoltaics CSP in Halle (Saale), I was able to gain experiences with the material glass and its properties for solar applications. The topic "glass" should accompany me since then, and it was clear to me that I would dedicate my future to this versatile material. When I was looking for my final thesis topic in my Master's degree "Renewable Energies" at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, a doctoral student almost simultaneously started his Ph.D. on volume structuring and needed experimental support. The volume structuring of solar glass is a rather new topic for which there is little preparatory work. Although the surface and volume structuring of various glass classes is scientifically well advanced, the process has never been optimized for use in photovoltaics.


What was the topic of your thesis? What fascinated and inspired you about it?

The aim of my master thesis was to create microstructures for light management in solar modules in the material volume of commercial solar glasses using ultrashort laser pulses. The generated microstructures have a slightly higher density compared to the base material, which allows the refraction of the light from inactive to active areas in the solar module. Since a large part of the module surface is not optically effective, active light management leads to improved illumination of the solar cell - thus increasing the producible photocurrent.

The topic covers both the functionalization by laser structuring of glass in general and its application for photovoltaics in particular. Due to the reciprocity theorem, however, the methodology is also conceivable for application in (LED-) lighting technology for energy-efficient lighting: If light can be coupled in well, it can also be decoupled well. This work has enabled me to develop thematic and personal profiling for my future career: glass, functionalization, photovoltaics, and energy technology are all topics that make up my profile.


What does the Green Photonics Junior Award meant to you, especially for your further studies and your career?

At the time of the announcement, I was with a cooperation partner, where I saw the posters with the call for applications. I found out about the goals, requirements, and contents of the award and quickly realized that my work covered all relevant aspects and was therefore ideally suited. So I decided to try but did not really think I had too many chances. Even more overwhelming was the positive answer. Already the second or third place would have been like gold - in the end, even taking the first place was unbelievable. I received a lot of positive feedback on the award from friends and acquaintances as well as colleagues.

The prize was very important to me. On the one hand, the award has perfectly expanded my application documents and go on doing so. Above all, however, it underlined the efficiency and potential of the topic. In addition, the award had a great advertising effect for all the institutions to which I was and still am assigned. Because of the award, I was asked to apply for further competitions and whether the technology could even be brought to market as a spin-off.

With the prize money, I was able to support my hobby and buy a new bicycle.


Would you recommend the participation in the award?

I can fully recommend the prize, whether in its "old" or "new" form. The works are evaluated by experts, awarded in a festive setting with high publicity and, last but not least, duly honored with certificates and trophies. The award is a beautiful and successful recognition for the many hours spent in dark laser laboratories.

Dr. Thorsten Bornwasser

3rd Place in the Category Dissertation, 2012


"Energieeffizienzsteigerung pflanzlicher In-vitro-Kulturverfahren mit Hochleistungs-LED-Belichtungssystemen"

(Energy efficiency increase of vegetable in-vitro culture processes with high-performance LED exposure systems)


What induced you to your field of research and the topic of your thesis? What fascinated and inspired you about it?

I came to my current job as a test engineer in vegetable gardening and production technology through my early interest in plants and horticulture. After a few internships and training as a gardener, I went on to study horticultural sciences in Hanover, where I focused more and more on horticultural technology. Already during my master thesis in the field of plant protection, I encountered LEDs and their versatile possibilities. With my dissertation topic "Increasing energy efficiency of plant in vitro culturing techniques with high power LED exposure systems“, I took up this topic from a technical perspective. Exciting for me was the combination of plant production and the latest technology, which inspires me to this day.


What does the Green Photonics Junior Award meant to you, especially for your further studies and your career?

A colleague told me about the Green Photonics Award. Since I was not sure whether a horticultural science topic was placed correctly there at all, I was even more pleased when I heard about the prize. The prize left positive marks not only on my account but also on my CV.

Happy Winners

You have also dealt with a topic in your thesis that is relevant for Applied Photonics? Then apply for the Applied Photonics Award and take your chance.

All information and admission criteria can be found here.