Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2022Copyright: Deutscher Zukunftspreis / Ansgar Pudenz
Copyright: Deutscher Zukunftspreis / Ansgar Pudenz
ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7
The Project

Researching the Foundations of Life

An innovative microscope for gentle 3D imaging of living cells

Much of what is known about how life developed, how its biological processes work together, how diseases are caused and how they can be treated is due to state-of-the-art high-resolution fluorescence microscopy. Yet this ingenious method also has a major disadvantage: it has an effect on and even damages the organisms studied – a factor that dramatically limits its possible applications. How can this dilemma be resolved?

Dr. Thomas Kalkbrenner, Dr. Jörg Siebenmorgen and Ralf Wolleschensky developed a solution: the innovative microscope system ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7. The system opens entirely new perspectives for research in biology, medicine, and pharmacology by linking lattice light sheet microscopy with various innovative optical technologies. This protects sensitive living samples from being damaged by the laser light used during microscopic examination. At the same time, the team found a way to make the complex technology easy to use.

  • Discovering the Subcellular Dynamics of Life

    With ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7

The People Behind

Dr. Thomas Kalkbrenner, Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2022
Copyright: Deutscher Zukunftspreis / Ansgar Pudenz

Dr. Thomas Kalkbrenner

Dr. rer. nat. Thomas Kalkbrenner was born in 1971 in Überlingen, Germany. He studied Physics at the University of Konstanz. He has been working in Advanced Development at ZEISS Microscopy since 2008 and became Team Leader and Lead Architect in the Special 3D product line in 2020.

Dr. Jörg Siebenmorgen, Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2022
Copyright: Deutscher Zukunftspreis / Ansgar Pudenz

Dr. Jörg Siebenmorgen

Dr. rer. nat. Jörg Siebenmorgen was born in 1979 in Pasewalk, Germany. He studied Physics at the University of Hamburg. He has been working in Advanced Development at ZEISS  Microscopy  since 2011.

Ralf Wollenschensky, Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2022
Copyright: Deutscher Zukunftspreis / Ansgar Pudenz

Ralf Wolleschensky

Dipl.-Phys. Ralf Wolleschensky was born in 1972 in Jena, Germany. He studied Physics at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. He has been working at ZEISS since 1998 and became the Head of Advanced Development at ZEISS Microscopy in 2009.

The Challenges

  • ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7
  • ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7
  • ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7
  • ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7
    Copyright: Deutscher Zukunftspreis / Ansgar Pudenz
    Challenge 1

    Reining in the Laser

    The problem for researchers studying living cells with fluorescence microscopes is the illumination: the intensities of the laser radiation used are higher than those of the sun by a factor of 1000 or more. This intense illumination can permanently damage living cells.

    A significant reduction of this photo damage is achieved with light sheet microscopy: unlike all other microscopes, the laser beam – in the form of a light sheet – is applied only in the area within the focus of the objective lens. While this works well for larger organisms, the laws of optics still prevent the transfer of this technology to cell biology. "We had to rein in the laser in a special way so that light only goes where a researcher wants to look and without unduly damaging cells," explains Kalkbrenner. "So we built on the idea of lattice light sheets from Nobel Prize winner Eric Betzig and took it further."

  • ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7
    Copyright: Deutscher Zukunftspreis / Ansgar Pudenz
    Challenge 2

    Looking Through the Glass at an Angle

    On top of this, the team had to completely rearrange the objective lenses because the cells grow on the cover slips in culture vessels like Petri dishes or multiwell plates.  One would have to look from below at an angle through the cover glass – an impossible task for a microscope objective, because the distortions that occur prevent any imaging.

    So they developed a completely new type of microscope optic based on  adaptive freeform elements  that allows to look through the sample vessels ‒ at an angle and from below ‒ at the cells inside without artefacts.  

  • Sample carrier with cells
    Copyright: Deutscher Zukunftspreis / Ansgar Pudenz
    Challenge 3

    Using Standard Sample Carriers

    The team managed to compensate the smallest deviations in carrier dimensions and sample position. Especially the multiwell plate formats, which are so important for the development of active agents in the high content screening process, are accessible to a light sheet microscope for the first time.

    All this has been developed to create an easy-to-use, compact system with high automation potential.

The Applications

Exploring the Living Cell

ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7 enables, for the first time, biomedical researchers to observe living cells live and in 3D for hours or even days. They study how, for example, the cells react to certain active agents, or what happens when viruses or bacteria enter cells.

A research group from Melbourne, Australia uses the system to study the malaria parasite, which is responsible for almost half a million deaths annually according to the World Health Organization (WHO). With ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7, they were able to capture this parasite, which is only one µm in size, as it invaded a living blood cell. For the first time, it was possible to study different stages of this highly complex parasite's life cycle live and in 3D.

In cancer research, too, scientists have already gained new insights with ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7. Prof. Markus Sauer from Julius Maximilian University in Würzburg studies immunotherapies, which potentially offer better chances of survival. Immune cells are removed from patients and reengineered so that they can better identify the tumor cells. These more effective CAR-T cells are then infused back into the person being treated.  

An exact understanding of the interaction between these CAR-T cells and tumor cells is decisive for optimizing personalized immune therapy in terms of impact and minimal side-effects. Here, lattice light sheet microscopy, with its ability to capture individual molecules, plays an especially important role.

Professor Markus Sauer | Julius Maximilian University Würzburg, Germany

Innovation as Part of the Corporate Identity

ZEISS has been nominated for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis multiple times. Two teams were even nominated in 2020. The ZEISS, TRUMPF and Fraunhofer research team was awarded the 2020 the Federal President's Award for Technology and Innovation for the development of EUV lithography.
Innovation is a way of life at ZEISS. You might say it is in the company's genes. As part of corporate strategy, it is always associated with society as a whole – where it forms the basis for further growth within the ZEISS Group. That is why ZEISS invests 13 percent of its revenue in research and development work. Optical technologies are vital when it comes to making progress in the life sciences, medicine, IT, telecommunications, automotive, consumer and many other fields. All ZEISS innovations aim to meet future customer needs with products, services, solutions and business models as well as offer added value and benefits.

Team ZEISS as the winner of the Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2022

The Deutscher Zukunftspreis

The Deutscher Zukunftspreis – the German President's Award for Innovation in Science and Technology – has been presented annually since 1997 and is one of the highest accolades for scientific achievement in Germany. It honors exceptional achievements in technology, engineering and the life sciences as well as software and algorithms that have resulted in viable products. Every year, the prestigious jury handpicks three research teams from a vast array of projects in a multi-stage selection process, and each team's innovation is shortlisted for the award in the final round of the competition. Alongside their innovative achievements, the jury also evaluates the development's economic and social potential. This year's award was presented in Berlin by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on 26 October 2022.

Read the press release.

Further information on the nominations and the German Future Prize.