The international laser community honors photonics visionary Professor Reinhart Poprawe for his life's work

An era is coming to an end: Throughout his professional life, Prof. Reinhart Poprawe shaped technological progress in photonics and specifically built up the next generation of young talent for the industry. Now the laser visionary is retiring in the fall of 2019. At the symposium “Digital Photonic Production and Industrie 4.0 and what it means for education and research” 280 laser experts and companions paid tribute to his work as a professor of laser technology, his services in basic and contract research and in the networking of industry and science. The symposium took place on June 23, 2019 in the run-up to the world's leading trade fair LASER World of PHOTONICS in Munich.

Reinhart Poprawe is distinguished by the fact that he knows both theory and practice: The graduate physicist gained his first experience with laser-specific process developments as department head at Fraunhofer ILT as early as the mid-1980s – in the pioneering days of the then still very young laser technology. As Managing Director of Thyssen Laser-Technik GmbH in Aachen, he subsequently put this knowledge into industrial practice. With this solid, industrially mature know-how in his luggage, he returned to the world of teaching and applied research in 1996 and became head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and the Chair for Laser Technology LLT at RWTH Aachen University. Thanks to his great commitment, the Fraunhofer ILT, with its associated chairs, is regarded as Europe's largest institute for applied laser research and contract development for industry. Indeed, the Munich scholar Joseph von Fraunhofer would certainly be proud of this creative power. “Our namesake has not only always been active in optical technologies, but has also seen innovations with a focus to applying them«, Professor Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, explains in his video message and turns directly to Poprawe: “The possibilities of laser technology have grown massively during your working life, and you and your team in Aachen have played a significant role in this”.


Networking science and research in a new dimension

High-ranking representatives from science and industry, including Dr. e. h. Peter Leibinger, Vice Chairman of the Management Board of the TRUMPF Group, Dr. Reinhard Pfeiffer, Vice Chairman of the Management Board of Messe München, former Fraunhofer CFO Prof. Alfred Gossner, former RWTH Rector Prof. Burkhard Rauhut and current RWTH Rector Prof. Ulrich Rüdiger all agree: Poprawe has set standards in photonics thanks to his consistent and visionary work. As Vice-Rector for Research, Structure and Young Scientists at RWTH Aachen University, Prof. Poprawe is co-initiator of the RWTH Aachen Campus, which is now growing into one of the world's most important technology landscapes and brings together innovative minds from industry and science under one roof. Under Poprawe’s leadership, the Photonics Cluster has been working on new ways of generating, shaping and using light, especially as a tool for industrial production, since 2010. Around 30 companies and their laser experts have already established themselves in this environment and use the short distances for new ideas and creative solutions to upcoming technological problems. Private investors created the building conditions for this on the campus. With the Digital Photonic Production research campus funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), new forms of long-term and systematic cooperation between RWTH Aachen University, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and industry are being established in this environment – a result of the personal commitment of Prof. Poprawe and his Aachen team.


Innovative, interdisciplinary, international

The spectrum of Fraunhofer ILT innovations in the Poprawe era ranges from the development of the Innoslab lasers and the first diode-pumped multi-kW solid-state lasers for industrial applications to the development and use of high-power ultrafast lasers all the way to process and system development for laser powder bed fusion LPBF and extreme high-speed laser material deposition EHLA. All of these award-winning innovations have been developed by highly motivated engineers and scientists, to whom Reinhart Poprawe offered extremely creative freedom along with an outstanding infrastructure and a conducive institute culture. On average, a patent was filed at Fraunhofer ILT every three to four weeks during the decades of his work. Over the course of 20 years, around 30 companies were founded in this environment, which Prof. Poprawe actively supported with his networks during the critical initial phase.

However, as a person Poprawe cannot simply be reduced to this innovative dimension. Much more, he thinks and acts across borders. For this reason, interdisciplinarity was always at the center of his work. The cooperation between the additive manufacturing experts at Fraunhofer ILT and innovative physicians led to the first printed hip implants used clinically in Germany, for example. Within the Photonics Cluster of RWTH Aachen University, Reinhart Poprawe and the Digital Photonic Production Research Center have initiated a strategic network of institutes in which 16 institutes from six faculties of RWTH Aachen University cooperate in the field of basic research of photonic technologies. The composition of the scientists and engineers at Fraunhofer ILT and the associated chairs is also characterized by an interdisciplinary approach. During his tenure, the number of employees at Fraunhofer ILT, the associated chairs and the photonics cluster grew from 250 to a total of around 800 laser experts and prospective scientists. In the meantime, an area of around 30,000 square meters is available for R&D activities.


Excellent global innovative strength

Prof. Poprawe's numerous awards include the Arthur L. Schawlow Award of the Laser Institute of America (LIA) in 2014 and the honorary professorship of Tshingua University in Beijing in the same year. They stand for his international commitment, which spanned all continents. The physicist, who already lived abroad during his studies, was particularly active in the USA, China and Japan. At the European level, Prof. Poprawe was also intensively involved in establishing research programs with international implications through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) institution Photonics21. His work has often been honored, for example, with the Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize in 1987, the Innovation Prize of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2011, and recently with the Fraunhofer coin.


Education as a matter close to the heart – for the benefit of society

Poprawe took on a role model in teaching his subject matter: laser technology. Furthermore, he was happy to introduce new teaching formats such as “Flipped Classrooms”. It was not for nothing that the students awarded him the teaching prize of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of RWTH Aachen University four times. In his time as professor, he was also the first assessor of over 200 doctorates. That is reason enough for 60 of his former doctoral students to present him with a mortarboard “made by RWTH Chair LLT” during the honorary symposium in Munich. A matter close to his heart now and then – he not only passed on knowledge, but also saw to the professional and personal growth of young scientists: “In addition to learning the essential specialist knowledge, the students must also develop an early awareness of their importance for the photonics industry. In this way, they can be motivated to use their creativity later on for socially relevant topics”. That is Poprawe's credo.

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Reinhart Poprawe

Short Biography

Prof. Dr. Reinhart Poprawe holds a M. A. in Physics degree from the California State University in Fresno which he received in 1977. After completion of his diploma and PhD in physics (Darmstadt 1984) he joined the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology in Aachen where he began working as head of the department „Laser oriented process development“ in 1985. From 1989 to January 1996 he has been managing director of Thyssen Laser-Technik GmbH in Aachen.

Since February 1996 he is managing director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology and holds the University Chair for Laser Technology at the RWTH Aachen. Currently he is a member of the board in the AKL Arbeitskreis Lasertechnik e. V. Aachen. Prof. Poprawe has been elected to the grade of Fellow in the Society of Manufacturing Engineers in USA (SME) since 1998. In 2006 he became Fellow of the Laser Institute of America LIA and in 2012 Fellow of SPIE. Since 2001 he is a member of the board of the Laser Institute of America (LIA) and serves in many national and international boards as advisor, referee or consultant, for instance at the National Laser Centre of South Africa NLC. During the period of September 2005 until September 2008 he was Vice-Rector for Structure, Research and Junior Academic Staff. He still is chairing the RWTH-International Board, is the Rectors delegate for China, received an Honorary Professorship at Tsinghua University and the Schawlow Award of the Laser Institute of America in 2014. In 2017 he was also awarded the Peter M. Baker Leadership Award of the Laser Institute of America LIA. 

© Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany / A. Steindl.

Curriculum Vitae

Family status Married to Anette Poprawe, four children
Birthdate 23. January 1954 in Offenbach/Main
October 1973 – July 1975 Physics at University of Mainz (Vordiplom 21st of April 1975)
November 1975 – February 1976 Student at Carl Zeiss Oberkochen
February 1976 – July 1976 Physics at University of Mainz
September 1976 – September 1977   Physics at California State University/ Fresno
(Master of Arts 12th of August 1977)
March 1978 – May 1980 Physics at Technical Univ. Darmstadt  (Diploma 05th of May 1980)
June 1980 – March 1985 Assistant at Technical University Darmstadt  (PhD 27th of July 1984)
April 1985 – May 1989 Department Head at
Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, Aachen
June 1989 – January 1996 Managing Director of Thyssen Laser-Technik GmbH
since February 1996 Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, Aachen and director of the Chair for Laser Technology LLT, RWTH Aachen University
July 2005 – September 2008 Vice-president for Research, Structure and scientific youth at RWTH Aachen University
January 2004 – January 2008 President of Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Lasertechnik WLT e.V.
since January 2010 Chair of RWTH International Bord and Rector‘s Delegate for China
January 2012 – December 2012 President of the Laser Institute of America LIA
July 2013 Managing Director of RWTH Aachen CAMPUS Photonics Cluster
December 2015 – December 2018 Member of Fraunhofer Präsidium and
Chair of Fraunhofer Group “Light and Surfaces”


Laser Applications:

Drilling, cutting, joining (welding, soldering), Surface treatment, Laser Additive Manufacturing (Selective Laser Melting, Laser Metal Deposition), Rapid Manufacturing, Polishing, Micro Technology, System Technology, Process Control, Photonics in Life Science, Direct Photonic Production.

Laser Development:

Diode pumped Solid State Lasers, Diode Lasers, Pump Modules and Amplifiers for multi sectorial  applications (Information- und Communication Technology, Display, EUV-Lithography, ps-, fs-Laser), coherent coupling, incoherent Superposition, Beam shaping in space and time, Ultrafast Lasers, Production processes for Diode Lasers.

Plasma Technology:

Process Analysis, Sensors for Laser Processes, laser induced Plasmas, EUV-Sources for Lithography and Microscopy, XUV-Sources, laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS).

Prizes and Honors

  • Fraunhofer Prize (1987)
  • Fellow Society of Manufacturing Engineers (1998)
  • Fellow Laser Institute of America (LIA) (2006)
  • Innovation Award of North Rhine-Westphalia (Additive Laser Manufacturing, 2011)
  • Fellow of SPIE (2012)
  • Teaching Prize of Aachen University Engineering (2013, 2014 , 2015, 2016, 2017)
  • Honorary Professor of Tsinghua University, Beijing (2014)
  • Schawlow Award, Laser Institute of America LIA (2014)
  • Fellow of IAPLE (2015)
  • Peter M. Baker Leadership Award of the Laser Institute of America LIA (2017)
  • Fellow of the Max Planck School of Photonics (February 2019 – February 2021)

Boards and Memberships

  • Member of the Board National Laser Centre of South Africa (2001–2010, since 2017)
  • Member of the Review Board “Production Technology” of the DFG (2004–2011)
  • Member of the Board EdgeWave GmbH (Chair)
  • Member of the Board Arbeitskreis Lasertechnik AKL e. V. (dep. Chair)
  • Member of the Board Laser Institute of America (LIA) (President 2012)
  • Member of the European Technology Platform Board of Stakeholders PHOTONICS21
  • Member of the RWTH-Aachen CAMPUS Board (Chair)
  • Member of Investitionskomitee High-Tech Gründerfonds (2008–2017)
  • Member of Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Lasertechnik e. V. WLT (President 2004–2008)
  • Member of the North Rhine-Westfalian Academy of Science
  • Chair of BMBF-Forschungscampus „Digital Photonic Production“ (2014–2029)
  • Chairman of „Sonderforschungsbereich 1120: Precision Melt Engineering“ (since 2014)
  • Initiator and Director of Digital Photonic Production Industrial Center (2013)

Publications, Teaching

  • More than 600 publications since 1984
  • More than 200 scientific and Industrial mostly keynote Presentations
  • Approx. 40 patents
  • More than 10 books (author and editor), e.g. “Tailored Light” I+II (Laser course text books), Landoldt Börnstein “Laser Physics and Applications”
  • Editor in Chief of “Journal of Laser Applications JLA”
  • Teaching of Laser Course since 1996
  • Establishment of “Flipped Classroom” in 2016
  • More than 200 PhD-students