News › Fraun­ho­fer IOF • 60th anni­ver­sary of the laser

Jena rese­arch groups world­wide lea­ding in laser development

It is indis­pensable for the use of smart­phones, for modern medi­cal tech­no­logy or appli­ca­ti­ons in space: we are tal­king about lasers. It first saw the light of day exactly 60 years ago. To make this ground­brea­king inven­tion acces­si­ble to a wider public, UNESCO has declared the laser’s bir­th­day, May 16th, to be Inter­na­tio­nal Day of Light. The laser rese­ar­chers of Jena, the city of light, are also cele­bra­ting this anni­ver­sary – num­e­rous records have been set here over the past 22 years. To this day, Jena is at the fore­front of rese­arch in the field of laser technologies.


On May 16th, 1960, the team around Theo­dore H. Mai­man at Bell Labs (USA) suc­cee­ded in rea­li­zing a laser for the first time. Appli­ca­ti­ons were tes­ted early on, e.g. in mate­rial pro­ces­sing or oph­thal­mo­logy. The wealth of ideas for the use of the new pre­cis­ion tool sub­se­quently increased inex­orably. In only 60 years, the laser has become almost uni­ver­sal and indis­pensable for our daily life.

Pres­ti­gious awards for laser rese­arch in Jena

Laser tech­no­logy also plays an important role in Jena, the city of light. For more than 20 years, rese­ar­chers at the Fraun­ho­fer IOF and the Insti­tute for Applied Phy­sics at the Fried­rich Schil­ler Uni­ver­sity of Jena have been working con­ti­nuously to improve the para­me­ters and appli­ca­tion pos­si­bi­li­ties of lasers. Prof. Andreas Tün­ner­mann is an expe­ri­en­ced expert at the head of both insti­tu­tes – in 2005 he hims­elf was awarded the Gott­fried Wil­helm Leib­niz Prize for his work in the field of laser development.

Other renow­ned pri­zes were awarded to the deputy direc­tor of the Fraun­ho­fer IOF, Prof. Ste­fan Nolte, for the use of ultras­hort laser pul­ses in indus­trial pro­duc­tion (Ger­man Future Prize 2013) and to the head of the »Fiber and Wave­guide Lasers« rese­arch group at the Insti­tute for Applied Phy­sics, Prof. Jens Lim­pert, who recei­ved an ERC grant for the third time in 2019 for his rese­arch in the field of high-per­for­mance fiber laser systems.

Mile­sto­nes in Jena laser research

On the occa­sion of the anni­ver­sary, Insti­tute Direc­tor Prof. Andreas Tün­ner­mann recalls the most important mile­sto­nes in Jena’s laser rese­arch: »There were many decisive deve­lo­p­ments. One of them is undoub­tedly the coher­ent cou­pling of lasers for sca­ling the out­put, for which we in Jena stand world­wide. The demons­tra­tion of the laser in opti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works was also important for us. Wit­hout the laser, our digi­tal society would pro­ba­bly not exist. But there are other examp­les, such as the use of the laser as a pre­cise and wear-resistant tool.«

Bes­i­des the deve­lo­p­ment of novel and ground­brea­king fiber ampli­fiers, so-cal­led »rod-type fiber ampli­fiers« in 2004, the Jena rese­ar­chers have suc­cee­ded in the past deca­des in con­stantly rai­sing the average out­put of high-power fiber lasers to new record levels. This hap­pened in 2009, when an out­put power of > 2 kW was achie­ved for the first time using spec­tral beam com­bi­ning (SBC). Fur­ther high­lights fol­lo­wed, e.g. in 2019 when Prof. Jens Limpert’s team suc­cee­ded in rea­li­zing an ultra-short pulse thu­lium fiber laser sys­tem with an average out­put power > 1 kW. Only at the begin­ning of this year, a novel 10 kW fem­to­se­cond laser sys­tem based on a coher­ent com­bi­na­tion of laser beams (CBC) was pre­sen­ted at SPIE.Photonics West.

High inno­va­tion poten­tial also for the future

Despite the achie­ve­ments so far, Insti­tute Direc­tor Tün­ner­mann indi­ca­tes that the limit of what is fea­si­ble is far from being rea­ched. »In the future, the laser will open up new wave­length ran­ges up to the X‑ray range and thus enable new ima­ging methods in medi­cine, for example.”

Inten­sive rese­arch is curr­ently being car­ried out at the Fraun­ho­fer-Gesell­schaft on ultra-short pul­sed lasers for indus­trial appli­ca­ti­ons. In the »Clus­ter of Excel­lence Advan­ced Pho­ton Sources« (CAPS), 13 Fraun­ho­fer Insti­tu­tes have joi­ned forces to deve­lop laser sources and pro­cess tech­no­logy for out­puts up to 20 kW. Lasers of this kind could be used, for exam­ple, to make mil­li­ons of tiny holes in air­craft wings, which would help to save fuel.

More and more advan­ced laser tech­no­lo­gies are also nee­ded in the field of quan­tum tech­no­lo­gies. Prac­ti­cally all approa­ches to quan­tum tech­no­logy require lasers to gene­rate and query quan­tum sta­tes. This was the case with the »QuNET« pro­ject, for which the Fraun­ho­fer-Gesell­schaft, the Max Planck Society, and the Ger­man Aero­space Cen­ter have been buil­ding a pilot net­work for quan­tum com­mu­ni­ca­tion in Ger­many since last year.

Experts, the­r­e­fore, agree that the laser will con­ti­nue to pro­duce spec­ta­cu­lar inno­va­tions in the future. Laser rese­ar­cher Prof. Andreas Tün­ner­mann puts it this way: »Alt­hough the laser is now 60 years old, it is always good for some­thing new. There are always new sur­pri­sing rea­liza­ti­ons of this old concept.«


Dr. Tho­mas Schreiber
Fraun­ho­fer IOF
Albert-Ein­stein-Straße 7
07745 Jena
+49 3641 807–352
+49 3641 807–604


Prof. Dr. Jens Limpert
Fraun­ho­fer CAPS and Head Group of »Fiber & Wave­guide Laser«
Insti­tut für Ange­wandte Phy­sik der FSU Jena
Albert-Ein­stein-Str. 15
07745 Jena
+49 3641 947–811
+49 3641 947–802