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Ultrafast Laser Researcher Wins LIA Schawlow Award

Photonics.com
Jul 2013
ORLANDO, Fla., July 29, 2013 — Ultrafast laser research pioneer Dr. Ursula Keller has been named the first female recipient of the Laser Institute of America’s (LIA) Arthur L. Schawlow Award.

The award, presented annually since 1982, recognizes achievements in either basic or applied laser research.

Keller, a professor of physics at ETH Zurich, where she leads the Ultrafast Laser Physics group and serves as director of the Swiss multi-institute NCCR MUST program in ultrafast science, is being honored for her passion for lasers, their value and their future.

“Lasers will move deeper and deeper into every computer platform, with optical clocks, interconnects and cables,” Keller said. “As has been pointed out many times before, photons are ideal for communication and electrons for switching. So there will be closer and stronger integration of both elements in future technology. Laser micromachining will become more important, and the progress in high-average-power ultrafast lasers will allow for many new material processing capabilities. Lasers are an ideal technology platform that enable truly multidisciplinary research and applications ranging from engineering to life sciences. What other technology can offer so much variety?”

Through her work, Keller aims to “explore and push the frontiers in ultrafast science and technology, using interdisciplinary understanding of the physics of lasers, semiconductors and measurement technologies,” she said. “One of my current focus areas is high-average-power ultrafast lasers, where we push the performance frontier with SESAM mode-locked thin-disk lasers into the multi-100-W average output power regime. We have pushed pulse energy and the average power of ultrafast laser oscillators by four orders of magnitude from typically 1 nJ to >10 µJ and from ~100 mW to >270 W directly from laser oscillators without additional amplifiers.”

Another focus of her efforts is on novel ultrafast semiconductor lasers, working toward more compact and less-expensive ultrafast devices. “We made fast progress in output power and pulse duration after the first demonstration of passively mode-locked external cavity surface emitting lasers (VECSELs) in collaboration with professor Anne C. Tropper in 2000,” she said. “A more recent highlight is a femtosecond VECSEL with more than 1 W average output power.”

Keller also is excited to serve as a role model for young women who might wish to join the laser industry.

“Laser science and technology is traditionally a very male dominated field, probably because it comes from electrical engineering and physics,” she said. “I hope we can attract more women into these areas in the near future because we cannot afford to keep losing half of our young talent pool. I always loved lasers, and I very much have enjoyed building and improving them for many years. As a community, we need to make a stronger effort to create a working environment where women feel welcome, can integrate, become motivated and can be empowered.”

Born in 1959 in Zug, Switzerland, Keller received a physics degree from ETH Zurich in 1984 and her doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University in 1989. She was a member of the technical staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1989 to 1993. Later, she was a visiting Miller Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a visiting professor at Lund Institute of Technology in Sweden.

Keller will receive the award in October at a luncheon during ICALEO 2013 in Miami.

For more information, visit: www.lia.org


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