The Carl Zeiss Research Award

(until 2013)

Outstanding work in international optics research is acknowledged with the Carl Zeiss Research Award every two years. This award, and the Otto Schott Research Award for outstanding work in optical research, which is awarded in alternating years, were created by the Carl Zeiss Foundation in 1987. The Carl Zeiss Research Award is financed by the Ernst Abbe Fund in the Stifterverband, the Donor's Association, to promote German science.

The ZEISS Research Award, the successor to the Carl Zeiss Research Award, was conferred for the first time in 2016.

  • 2013
    ©Photo: Magnus Bergstroem

    ©Photo: Magnus Bergstroem

    Professor Anne L’Huillier

    Professor Anne L’Huillier from Lund University in Sweden is being honored for her pioneering work in the field of high harmonic generation. This has laid the foundation for the generation of attosecond impulses and enabled key advances in attosecond physics.


    "Professor L’Huillier not only described the theory of attosecond technology, but also verified it experimentally”, stated the jury in announcing its decision. Her work enables further development and application of this technology.


    Attosecond impulses can be used, for example, to observe the movement of electrons in atoms or molecules in real-time. This plays a key role in understanding general physical phenomena or chemical reactions at the atomic level. This means that attosecond impulses can be used to build a kind of camcorder which can be used to record movies from the inside of atoms and molecules in mega slow motion.


    1 Attosecond (as) = 0.000,000,000,000,000,001 seconds = 10-18 seconds is a very short time: even light that travels at the unimaginable speed of 300,000 kilometers per second moves less than one millionth of a millimeter in one attosecond – not even from one end of a molecule to the other.


    The Carl Zeiss Research Award will be presented to Professor L’Huillier on Wednesday, June 19, 2013.


    Press release link

  • 2011

    James G. Fujimoto

     James G. Fujimoto from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge was honored on behalf of his team and external research partners for the development of optical coherence tomography (OCT).
    The team published this technology in Science magazine for the first time in 1991. It is considered the optical equivalent of acoustic ultrasound technology.
    Both techniques are used to generate high-resolution, three-dimensional images of living tissue in real time. While ultrasound uses very high frequency sounds, OCT utilizes light rays with a low coherence length that generate a characteristic interference pattern when they overlap.

    OCT is now a routine examination technique in ophthalmology, especially in the diagnosis of eye diseases like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. In the field of diagnosis through imaging in cardiac blood vessels, OCT is currently on the threshold of broader clinical use; intensive global research is also being conducted into further medical applications such as in-vivo biopsy, histology and functional brain mapping.

    An outstanding contribution to the development and application of OC

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  • 2009

    Rainer Blatt and Ignacio Cirac were honored for their revolutionary experimental and theoretical work in the field of quantum information, and for the concepts and ideas they developed in quantum optics. With this work, they have taken a leading role in quantum information science, one of the most active research fields today. Both scientists have not only laid the foundation for future quantum technology, but have also actively worked in this direction.

    Rainer Blatt

    Rainer Blatt and his group were among the first to conduct experiments for quantum information processing with ion traps – ideas initiated from I. Cirac and P. Zoller. The outstanding results transformed Innsbruck, Austria, into a global center for quantum information processing.

    Ignacio Cirac

    Ignacio Cirac introduced groundbreaking theories, including how quantum information science can be used in quantum optical systems. His excellent work paved the way for the development of quantum information research.

  • 2007

    Jun Ye

    Jun Ye works at the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the University of Colorado in Boulder (USA).

    Jun Ye has further developed the pioneering research of Theodor W. Hänsch and John L. Hall on the measurement of frequencies and made it usable for new applications. In addition to the development of optical clocks, these include new spectroscopic techniques and ultrafast precision lasers.

  • 2006

    Kurt Busch’s contribution to the Theory of Light Propagation in Structured Materials and Martin Wegener’s experimental approaches considerably enhanced the possibilities of manufacturing 3D photonic crystals. Photonic crystals permit, for example, the efficient implementation of optical processors.
    Optical metamaterials feature extraordinary properties such as a negative refractive index. Therefore, these materials have a wide range of uses. They enable the manufacture of “perfect” lenses whose diffraction does not limit resolution. Conceivable applications include new lithography processes for the manufacture of computer chips.

    Kurt Busch

    Kurt Busch studied physics in Karlsruhe, where he also obtained his doctorate. In 2004/2005 he was an Associate Professor at the University of Central Florida. He has been a professor at the Institute of Theoretical Solid Body Physics of the University of Karlsruhe since April 2005..

    Martin Wegener

    Martin Wegener studied physics in Frankfurt/Main, where he also obtained his doctorate. After conducting research work at AT&T Laboratories in the USA (1988-1990), he held his first professorship in Dortmund. He has been working at the Institute of Applied Physics of the University of Karlsruhe since 1995. He became head of the workgroup for photonic crystals at the Karlsruhe Research Center in 2001. Wegener received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft (German Research Foundation) in 2000.

  • 2004

    Mark Kasevich

    Mark Kasevich, Professor of Physics at Stanford University in California was honored with the 2004 Carl Zeiss Research Award for his research work on precision atom interferometers.
    Interferometry is a known phenomenon, primarily from optics, in which light waves can be so superimposed that the crests and troughs of their waves mutually cancel each other out or amplify each other.Atom interferometry uses an effect that has been known since 1924 – that atoms can also behave like waves. This has been used in measuring machines for many years.
    Atomic waves increase measuring accuracy a thousand times over compared to light waves as their wavelengths are significantly shorter. Mark Kasevich has dealt with atom interferometry for more than 10 years.
    The first atom interferometer was built in 1991 by researchers at the University of Constance, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the German National Metrology Institute and Stanford University. Steven Chu and Mark Kasevich developed a new atom interferometer several months later at Yale University.

    Extreme increase in precision

    Kasevich dramatically increased the precision into the extreme by using laser-cooled, ultra-cold (almost absolute zero) atoms. He thus developed a process to measure acceleration with maximum accuracy. It presents interesting perspectives for technical applications – for navigation or measuring rock formations during development of mineral and oil deposits.

  • 2002

    Stefan Hell

    Stefan Hell received the Carl Zeiss Research Award for his pioneering achievements in basic research and applications for high-resolution microscopy.
    The foundations and applications particularly of laser scanning microscopy are key elements of his work. His objective is to find methods of expanding the resolving power and thus the range of applications of optical microscopes in life sciences.
    Key scientific results and methods include the STED concept ("Stimulated Emission Depletion" microscopy), 4π confocal microscopy and 3D resolution at the 100 nm level.
    Stefan Hell received the Chemistry Nobel Prize in 2014.

  • 2000

    Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth

    Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth, Lübeck, was honored for the development of basic principles of photodynamic therapy on the eye. With this method, the deterioration of vision as a result of wet age-related macular degeneration can be slowed


    This disease is the main cause of blindness in people over 50. Building on intensive work with retinal diseases and patients with macular degeneration and their treatment with a laser, Schmidt-Erfurth developed the strategy to apply the phototherapeutic principle on the eye from 1990-1992 at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at the Harvard Medical School in Boston.

    Shuji Nakamura

    Shuji Nakamura, Santa Barbara, received the Carl Zeiss Research Award for the development of high-brightness, blue light-emitting and laser diodes. This enables applications such as full-color displays and advertising, e.g. in sports stadiums. With the availability of blue LEDs, all primary colors can now be displayed with long-lasting, energy-efficient light diodes. In the future, white LEDs with red, blue and green LED structures in one unit will be able to replace conventional light sources such as light bulbs. The shorter wavelength of the laser enables e.g. 4x higher resolution in CD players and CD-ROM drives compared to traditional devices that use infrared lasers to read signals.

    Shuji Nakamura received the Physics Nobel Prize in 2014.

  • Archive (1999 - 1990)


    Ursula Keller

    Ursula Keller, Zurich, was honored for her pioneering work on the generation of high-power, ultrashort laser pulses using solid state lasers. The reduction of the pulses to time intervals of less than 10 femtoseconds was made possible through new methods of mode locking. Keller developed a promising new way of mode locking through saturable semiconductors which she successfully utilized. Furthermore, she succeeded in interpreting the spontaneous locking observed by other authors as Kerr lens mode locking.

    Ferenc Krausz

    Ferenc Krausz, Vienna, was honored for his groundbreaking work on the generation of ultrashort laser pulses using dispersive dielectric mirrors. In a femtosecond laser, the dispersion of conventional optical parts dictates a limit for the shortest possible pulse duration. Through the use of dispersive dielectric mirrors, Mr. Krausz succeeded in lowering this threshold. Furthermore, his laser setup enabled him to develop a compact, high-brilliance X-ray source that is suitable for promising applications in biology and medicine.


    Eric A. Cornell

    Eric A. Cornell, Boulder, reviewed the Bose-Einstein condensate of atoms, a key consequence of the quantum theory, in an extensive experiment. The optics played a key role: Using laser light, it was possible to cool atoms to the required low temperature of 100 nanokelvins above absolute zero. This experiment made it possible to examine a long-predicted state of matter.
    He received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2001.

    Dieter Pohl

    Dieter Pohl, Zurich, demonstrated that it is possible to build a light microscope that does not use lenses, but transports light to the specimen via a fine probe. In this way, the resolution limit of the microscope, which was considered insurmountable for more than 100 years, has been lowered by at least one order of magnitude: corresponding near-field microscopes today typically work with resolution of 100 nm. 10 nm are possible and even 1 nm could be achieved.


    Heinrich Bräuninger

    Heinrich Bräuninger, Garching, began his preliminary work on ROSAT, which dealt with the reduction of the micro-roughness of X-ray mirrors, in 1973. On this basis, micro-roughness of 0.25 nm was achieved in a multi-year iterative program during which Carl Zeiss gradually improved polishing technology. These systematic examinations of X-rays have been supplemented with theoretical work.

    Bernd Aschenbach

    Bernd Aschenbach, Garching, developed flexible beam tracing programs for real mirrors which are deformed by thermal- mechanical action and are subject to reflection losses due to chemical contamination. This enabled the precise prediction of the X-ray-optical quality of the ROSAT mirror. Furthermore, he developed a technique for the assembly of parabolic and hyperbolic mirrors, with which maximum compensation of the mirror errors resulting from production could be achieved.


    Ahmed A. Zewail (1946-2016)

    Ahmed H. Zewail, Pasadena, made it possible to directly view the process of chemical reactions on individual molecules, and thus obtain direct access to the dynamics of chemical reactions, with maximum resolution in both space and time through the perfect combination of state-of-the-art molecule-beam technology and ultra-fast laser spectroscopy.
    He received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1999.

    Yoshihisa Yamamoto

    Yoshihisa Yamamoto, Tokyo, was honored for his pioneering work on radiation processes in micro-resonators and the generation of non-traditional radiation which is of fundamental importance for communication with laser light.


    Philippe Grangier

    Philippe Grangier, Orsay, earned his stripes with his contributions to the quantum mechanical nature of light. His work on "non-traditional fields of light" points the way to new applications in the field of optical communications and optical precision measurements.

    James R. Taylor

    James R. Taylor, London, was honored for his work in the field of lasers, where he achieved major advances in the generation and application of ultrashort light pulses.

    Norbert Streibl

    Norbert Streibl, Erlangen, was a key player in the enhancement of the theory of the 3D imaging of objects and transcribed them into algorithms which have proven to be of major significance in the field of microscopy, for example.

Research award winners at a glance