“It is wonderful”—those were the words Peter Leibinger used to welcome the people for the celebration of the Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis 2020/21. It was a wonderful warm evening indeed, to celebrate great science and bright people in the laser community.
That was made possible by a two-step testing marathon for the participants in a nearby parking deck. Waiting there was made as pleasant as possible, but people were truly released when finally, they got permission to lift the masks and to enter the celebration hall.
Peter Leibinger emphasized that this event felt bittersweet for him. Sweet, because it was such a pleasure to celebrate with the community after it had to be postponed last year. Bitter, as his father Berthold Leibinger passed away a few weeks after the last Innovationspreis ceremony in 2018.
It should be mentioned that Berthold Leibinger had a remarkable history as an engineer and businessman. He had joined Trumpf in the 1950s as a mechanic, but left soon to become a mechanical engineer and to move to the United States for some years. After his return, Leibinger successively took over shares of the company from company founder Christian Trumpf as a compensation for patents he filed. This way, he had a majority of shares in 1978 and made Trumpf the market leader for industrial laser systems. In 2005, he handed over the director’s position to his daughter Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller, who leads the family-owned business ever since.
Berthold Leibinger wrote several books, including his autobiography and his dissertation thesis, which are well worth reading for anyone interested in the advent of the machine tool industry.
In 2000 Berthold Leibinger founded the bi-annual Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis “for excellent research and development work on the application or generation of laser light.” In addition to the three levels of the Innovationspreis, the Berthold Leibinger Zukunftspreis (future award) is given to single scientists who contributed essentially to basic research in laser technology. In addition to these well-funded awards, the Leibinger Foundation made these evenings unforgettable gatherings of the laser community.
The 2020/21 awardees
Only a very few persons can say that their work really shaped the world we live in. Sir David Payne invented the Erbium-doped fiber amplifier. A system that enabled long-haul signal transmission through glass fibers. Today, the backbone of the internet and of any of our telecommunication lines rely on EDFA. A small derivation of the idea, using higher powers, changed the world in laser material processing. Sir David Payne received the Berthold Leibinger Zukunftspreis 2020/21 for “Erbium-Doped Fibre Amplifier (EDFA) and Pioneering Research in Fibre Optics Technology.”
The first prize of the Innovationspreis went to another spectacular development: EUV generation. The technology was long sought for, now it is the core technology for making modern computer and smartphone chips. Daniel Brown, Alexander Schafgans, and Yezheng Tao from ASML, the Netherlands & USA, got the prize for a “breakthrough in laser-produced plasma source for Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography scanner enabling high-volume manufacturing.”
While EUV is a truly amazing achievement, new and similarly exciting developments are on the horizon. “Particle Acceleration on a Chip” is such a promising topic and it is why Robert L. Byer (Stanford) and Peter Hommelhoff (Nuremberg, Germany) were awarded the second prize for their research in that field. A chip-sized accelerator could be used for radiation therapy, in a simple doctor’s office or, maybe, even inside the human body.
The third prize was given to Stephan Barcikowski and Bilal Gökce from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, for their invention of “scaled-up nanoparticle synthesis by laser ablation in liquids for the chemical industry and additive manufacturing.” This team has been there before, in 2012 they were finalists. Now, with a hundred times more efficient processes, they got the “real” prize.
It should be noted that five more teams championed as finalists with even more exciting innovations.
And last but not least—the reception. This year, about 300 people attended the party. That’s less than the usual 500, but still an enthusiastic crowd of laser and photonics luminaries. Some flew in from America, most came from all over Europe. We all shared what we had missed so much: the joy of a warm autumn evening, a chat with friends, colleagues and those who might soon become so.
The next celebration of the Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis will be on a different date, as Sven Ederer from the Berthold Leibinger Foundation told me. It will be held on the Friday before the Laser World of Photonics trade show in 2023. That is, in June 2023, probably. Just the location remains the same—the Trumpf headquarters in Ditzingen, Germany.