Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics: –°ementing scientific links with the Universities

The history of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) began on 1 January 1976, when a Laser Research Group was set up at the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics (IPP). This group, an initiative of Professor Herbert Walther, Professor Ludwig Kompa and Dr. Siegbert Witkowski, was formed under the terms of an agreement between the Federal Ministry of Research and Technology and the Max Planck Society. The core of the research group was formed by 46 members of staff of the IPP, working on the development of high-power lasers and their application in fusion research. Their goal was to investigate laser sources with a view to possible new applications in plasma physics, chemistry, spectroscopy and related fields.

In 1981 the research group achieved the status of a separate Max Planck Institute, comprising the divisions of Laser Physics (Prof. Herbert Walther), Laser Chemistry (Prof. Karl-Ludwig Kompa) and Laser Plasma (Dr. Siegbert Witkowski). Staff numbers had now risen to 82. In 1986 the MPQ moved into its own 7,000 m2 building on the south side of the research facilities in Garching. In the same year, with the appointment of Professor Theodor Hänsch (then at Stanford University), a fourth division was set up at the MPQ, on Laser Spectroscopy. Like Herbert Walther, Theodor Hänsch was also given a chair at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, which further cemented the institute´s links with the university.

Since 1985 the Research Group on Gravitational Waves at the MPQ has been concerned with the development of laser interferometers to detect gravitational waves. Out of this work grew cooperation with the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow. In 1989 the GEO600 project was launched, which involved the building of a laser interferometer system with an arm length of 600 metres at a site near Hanover.

In 1993 the retirement of Dr. Siegbert Witkowski ushered in a period of generational change at the institute, also associated with a gradual reorientation in the research programme. The experiments with the Asterix high-power laser were concluded. The laser was dismantled in 1997 and at the end of 1998 transferred to Prague to the Institute of Plasma Physics at the Academy of Sciences, where it is still operational today. Other work on light-plasma interaction was now continued by a working group on Laser Plasma under the direction of Professor Klaus-Jürgen Witte and Professor Jürgen Meyer-ter-Vehn, in the period up to 2004.

In 1999 Professor Gerhard Rempe (then University of Constance) was appointed as the new director of the MPQ, and the Quantum Dynamics Division was set up.

In 2001 the Research Group on Gravitational Waves moved to Hanover where the first test measurements were carried out in the experiment. Since then that group has been a part of the MPI of Gravitational Physics (Potsdam) that was founded in 1995. In the same year (2001) Professor Ignacio Cirac (then University of Innsbruck) accepted the directorship of the MPQ and set up the first Theory division at the institute.

At the beginning of 2003 Professor Herbert Walther acquired emeritus status, but continued his research work as head of the Laser Physics Emeritus Group. His successor as director of the MPQ and professor at the LMU is Professor Ferenc Krausz (previously Technical University of Vienna). Professor Krausz has led the Attosecond and High-Field Physics Division since 2003.

When Professor Karl-Ludwig Kompa became an emeritus professor in March 2006, all the founding fathers of the institute were thus now in retirement. Professor Kompa is now head of the Laser Chemistry Emeritus Group. In parallel with these retirements not only were three new divisions established but also several independent junior research groups founded: In 2004 the Quantum Simulations with Trapped Ions Group was formed, led by Dr. Tobias Schätz, and also the Attosecond Driver Laser Group, whose director Dr. Andrius Baltuska took up a professorship at the Technical University of Vienna in 2006. In 2005 Dr. Tobias Kippenberg began setting up his junior research group, the Laboratory of Photonics, at the MPQ. In July 2006 Dr. Reinhard Kienberger received funding to set up another junior research group, on Attosecond Dynamics. In January 2007 a further junior research group was added, on Attosecond Imaging, led by Dr. Matthias Kling. In January 2008 Dr. Masaki Hori started his group on Antimatter Spectroscopy, followed by the Ultrafast Quantum Optics group of Dr. Peter Hommelhoff in April 2008.

A special highlight in the history of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics was the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2005 to Professor Hänsch for the development of the frequency comb technique. Not least thanks to this award Professor Hänsch will continue to work at the LMU and the MPQ beyond 2010. At the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Professorship was specially set up for him. Further support for his research activity at the MPQ also comes from the 'Excellence Foundation to promote the Max Planck Society'. Following the death of Professor Herbert Walther in July 2006, Professor Hänsch also took over the leadership of the Laser Physics Group.

In a colloquium in memory of Prof. Herbert Walther that took place in July 2007 the MPQ lecture hall was named after this great person and scientist. On 1 August 2008 a fifth division Quantum Simulations was established by Prof. Immanuel Bloch. Prof. Bloch will succeed Prof. Theodor W. Hänsch, who would normally retire in 2009, as director at MPQ. Due to a special agreement with LMU and MPG Prof. Hänsch will remain professor at LMU for at least six additional years and he will stay director at MPQ for life. One research focus of Prof. Bloch will be the investigation of ultracold quantum gases in optical lattices. These systems may help to model solid states and to get a better understanding of superconductivity.



By Vasil Sidorov on June 07, 2011 from Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics

Technopark QUELTA,

Nizhyn Laboratories of Scanning Devices



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