ZEISS Research Award

There are many different ways in which ZEISS promotes science. In 1990, the company created the Carl Zeiss Research Award to honor outstanding achievements in the field of optics.

The ZEISS Research Award is the successor to the Carl Zeiss Research Award and was conferred for the first time in 2016. It carries on the idea of the Carl Zeiss Research Award, which has thus far been presented by the Ernst Abbe Fund within the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany.

The ZEISS Research Award will now be presented and sponsored exclusively by ZEISS. The award will honor outstanding achievements in international research. Many of the 26 awardwinners have gone on to receive other important distinctions, and four of them have even won the Nobel Prize.

Prize money of EUR 40,000 has been allocated to the award.

ZEISS Research Award 2018: Dr. Jean Pierre Wolf (Institute for Biophotonics at the University of Geneva) and Dr. Tobias Kippenberg (Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne – EPFL; 2nd and 3rd from left). Dr. Michael Kaschke, President and CEO of ZEISS (left), and speaker Dr. Jürgen Mlynek, Professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin and former President of the Helmholtz Association, honored the awardwinners.


Dr. Tobias Kippenberg and Dr. Jean-Pierre Wolf are the winners of the prestigious ZEISS Research Award 2018. The jury was impressed by their exceptional work.

The awards were presented during the ZEISS Symposium “Optics in the Quantum World“ on 18 April 2018 at the ZEISS Forum in Oberkochen.

Dr. Tobias J. Kippenberg
Dr. Tobias J. Kippenberg

Tobias Kippenberg, Professor at the Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), is a pioneer in the field of resonator optomechanics and microresonator-based optical frequncy combs. His research has demonstrated that, by using microresonators – which can confine light in an extremely small space and guide it – the faint forces exerted by light rays can be used to measure and cool mechanical movements in the quantum regime. This means, for instance, that high-precision sensors can be developed to measure mechanical movements that are many orders of magnitude more precise than the currently available position sensors. They are sensitive enough to even measure the quantum mechanic “absolute zero” fluctuations of a mechanical object.

Prof. Jean-Pierre Wolf
Prof. Jean-Pierre Wolf

Jean-Pierre Wolf, Professor at the Biophotonics Institute at the University of Geneva, was honored for this groundbreaking application of ultra-short, ultra-intense laser pulses in researching the earth’s atmosphere. His research makes it possible to find out more about pollutants in the earth’s atmosphere and potentially control lightning and condensation in clouds. This could even make it possible to prevent extreme weather. The focus of his research efforts has been on the applications of ultra-short spectroscopy for biological, medical and environmental research.


Fedor Jelezko and Jörg Wrachtrup

The ZEISS Research Award and the Carl Zeiss Award for Young Researchers were presented at the ZEISS Symposium “Optics in the Digital World” on 23 June 2016.

Jörg Wrachtrup © David Ausserhofer
Jörg Wrachtrup
Fedor Jelezko © Elvira Eberhardt
Fedor Jelezko

The winners of the ZEISS Research Award 2016 are Fedor Jelezko and Jörg Wrachtrup. They have been honored for their outstanding work on quantum technology with optically addressable spins in diamond

Diamonds are the focus of the research conducted by Wrachtrup and Jelezko. The researchers deliberately integrate foreign atoms into the diamond lattice. The resulting artificial defects in diamond are very effectively shielded against influences from the surrounding area. This makes it possible to observe their quantum states, for which extremely complex apparatus is normally required, even under ambient conditions. These can then be used to process information extremely quickly or transfer it in a way that it cannot be intercepted (“quantum cryptography”).

Researchers recently discovered that they can do completely different things using these diamonds. The scientists have succeeded in verifying that diamonds can be used to build sensors that promise new, pioneering applications, e.g. in medical technology for tumor diagnostics or as a navigation aid for self-driving cars.

The Carl Zeiss Research Award (until 2013)

Until 2013, the Carl Zeiss Research Award was presented every two years to honor outstanding achievements in international optical research. In 1987, the Carl Zeiss Foundation launched this award, and the Otto Schott Research Award, which honors outstanding achievements in glass research. The two awards are presented in alternate years. The Carl Zeiss Research Award was given by the Ernst Abbe Fund in the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft (a joint initiative of German industries to promote science and higher education). Its successor is the ZEISS Research Award, which ZEISS conferred for the first time in 2016.


Professor Anne L’Huillier

Professor Anne L’Huillier © 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 made crucial advances possible in the field of attosecond physics.

“Professor L’Huillier not only described the theory of attosecond technology, but also verified it by performing experiments,” says the jury, explaining its decision. L’Huillier's work enables the continued 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. Attosecond impulses can be used to build a type of video camera that allows scientists to record super time-lapse movies from within atoms and molecules.

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.



James G. Fujimoto

An outstanding contribution to the development and application of OC
James G. Fujimoto
James G. Fujimoto

James G. Fujimoto from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge (USA) 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 cusp 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.


Rainer Blatt & Ignazio Cirac

Groundbreaking experimental and theoretical work in the field of quantum information

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 assumed a leading role in quantum information science, one of the most active research fields today. Not only have the two scientists laid the foundation for future quantum technology, they have also actively worked toward achieving this.

Rainer Blatt

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

Ignazio Cirac

Ignazio Cirac contributed 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.


Jun Ye

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

Jun Ye has 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 ultra-fast precision lasers.


Kurt Busch & Martin Wegener

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 the efficient implementation of optical processors.

Optical metamaterials have 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 manufacturing 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 at the University of Karlsruhe since April 2005.

Martin Wegener

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


Mark Kasevich

Professor of Physics at Stanford University in California, USA
Mark Kasevich

Mark Kasevich, Professor of Physics at Stanford University in California, USA, was honored with the 2004 Carl Zeiss Research Award for his research work on precision atom interferometers.

Interferometry is a known phenomenon, primarily in optics, and involves light waves being superimposed in a way that means the crests and troughs of their waves either 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 been exploring atom interferometry for more than 10 years.

The first atom interferometer was built in 1991 by researchers at the University of Constance, the 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 increased precision to 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 the development of mineral and oil deposits.


Stefan Hell

Stefan Hell

Stefan Hell received the Carl Zeiss Award for his pioneering achievements in basic research and applications for high-resolution microscopy.

The foundation and applications, particularly laser scanning microscopy, are the key to his work. His objective is to find methods of expanding the resolving power and thus the range of applications of optical microscopes in the 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 Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014.


Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth & Shuji Nakamura

Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth

Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth from Lübeck was honored for developing the basic principles of photodynamic treatment for the eyes. 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 the over-50s. Building on the 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 to the eye from 1990 to 1992 at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at the Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Shuji Nakamura

Shuji Nakamura from Santa Barbara received the Carl Zeiss Research Award for developing 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 durable, 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 4x higher resolution on CD players and CD-ROM drives compared to traditional devices that use infrared lasers to read signals.

Shuji Nakamura was honored with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2014.

1990 – 1999


Ursula Keller

Ursula Keller from Zurich was honored for her pioneering work on the generation of high-power, ultra-short 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 kind of mode locking through saturable semiconductors, which she then successfully utilized. Furthermore, she succeeded in interpreting the spontaneous locking observed by other authors as Kerr lens mode locking.

Ferenc Krausz

Ferenc Krausz from Vienna was honored for his groundbreaking work on the generation of ultra-short 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 from Boulder reviewed the Bose-Einstein condensate of atoms, a key consequence of the quantum theory, in a comprehensive experiment. The optics played a key role: using laser light, it was possible to cool the 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 from 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, was lowered by at least one order of magnitude: today, corresponding near-field microscopes typically work with a resolution of 100 nm. 10 nm is also possible, and even 1 nm can be achieved.


Heinrich Bräuninger

Heinrich Bräuninger from Garching began his preliminary work on ROSAT in 1973, which aimed to reduce the micro-roughness of X-ray mirrors. 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 from Garching developed flexible beam-tracing programs for real mirrors, which are deformed by way of thermal-mechanical processes 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, which enabled maximum compensation of the mirror errors resulting from production to be achieved.


Ahmed H. Zewail (1946–2016)

Ahmed H. Zewail (1946–2016) from Pasadena made it possible to directly view the process of chemical reactions on individual molecules, and thus gain 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 from Tokyo was honored for his pioneering work on radiation processes in microresonators and the generation of non-traditional radiation, which is of fundamental importance for communication with laser light.


Philippe Grangier

Philippe Grangier from 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 from London was honored for his work in the field of lasers, where he achieved major advances in the generation and application of ultra-short laser pulses.

Norbert Streibl

Norbert Streibl from Erlangen was a key player in advancing the theory of the 3D imaging of objects and transcribed them into algorithms that have proven to be of major significance in fields such as microscopy.

Carl Zeiss Award for Young Researchers

Since 2016, independently of the ZEISS Research Award, the Ernst Abbe Foundation in the Donors’ Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany has been presenting a research award with a focus on up-and-coming talent: the Carl Zeiss Award for Young Researchers. The award has been allocated prize money totaling €21,000 and will be shared equally among three winners, with each of them receiving €7,000.

2018 Winners

  • Dr. Irene Costantini, European Laboratory for Non-Linear Spectroscopy, Florence
  • Dr. Kilian Heeg, Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, Heidelberg
  • Dr. Fabian Stutzki, Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering, Jena

2016 Winners

  • Robert Brückner, Institute for Applied Photo Physics (IAPP), Technical University of Dresden, Germany
  • Georg Heinze, Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), Barcelona, Spain
  • Robert Keil, Institute for Experimental Physics, University of Innsbruck, Austria