Professor Dr Reinhart Poprawe, director of Fraunhofer ILT, will retire this autumn. Here we take a closer look at his extensive career, and his impact on laser technology

One of the laser industry’s most significant, recognised and respected figures, Professor Dr Reinhart Poprawe, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and the chair for Laser Technology LLT at RWTH Aachen University, is to retire.

Earlier this year, on the eve of Laser

World of Photonics in Munich, a total of 280 experts and companions from the international laser industry gathered at a symposium to pay tribute to Poprawe’s work as a professor of laser technology, as well as to his services to fundamental research, contract research and the networking of industry and science.

Among those in attendance were high-

ranking representatives from science and industry, including Fraunhofer president Professor Reimund Neugebauer, who said: ‘Professor Poprawe embodies the Fraunhofer spirit through and through: our namesake, Joseph von Fraunhofer, was active in optical technologies and, like him, Poprawe has always viewed innovations with a focus on concrete applications. ‘Since Fraunhofer ILT was founded in Aachen, Professor Poprawe has played a key role in shaping the position of the German laser industry. Back when few recognised how positive the impact of technology clusters could be, he had already laid the foundation for the Aachen institute’s emphasis on combining optical technologies, mechanical engineering and process technology.’ At the symposium Poprawe took part

in discussions covering digital photonic production, Industry 4.0 and what they


“In addition to helping shape technological progress in photonics, Poprawe has also helped build up the next generation of young talent for the industry”

applied research, becoming the director of the Fraunhofer ILT and the chair for Laser Technology LLT at RWTH Aachen University in 1996 – beginning what will undoubtedly be referred to as ‘the Poprawe era’ of the Fraunhofer ILT from now on. The following 23 years saw countless

innovations made at the institute, ranging from the development of Innoslab lasers and the first diode-pumped multi-kilowatt

mean for future education and research. He was also presented with a symbolic doctoral cap by around 60 of the total 200 scientists who earned their doctorates under his supervision.

A life in lasers Following the completion of his PhD in physics at Technical University Darmstadt, Poprawe initially joined Fraunhofer ILT in 1985, where he gained his first experience with laser-specific process developments and served as head of the laser-oriented process development department for four years. Following this, in 1989 he turned to putting this acquired knowledge into industrial practice, working as the managing director of Aachen-based Thyssen Laser- Technik for six and a half years. Thereafter, he returned to the field of teaching and

solid-state lasers for industrial applications, to the development and use of high-power ultrafast lasers, and the process and system development for laser powder bed fusion and extreme high-speed laser material deposition (EHLA). These award-winning innovations were all developed by highly motivated engineers and scientists, to whom Poprawe offered extremely creative freedom along with an outstanding infrastructure and a conducive institute culture.

During his tenure, the number of

employees at Fraunhofer ILT, the associated chairs and the cluster grew from 250 to a total of around 800 laser experts and prospective scientists. In addition, according to Fraunhofer ILT, on average a patent was filed at the institute every three to four weeks during the decades of Poprawe’s leadership. Around 30 companies were also founded in this environment, which Poprawe actively supported with his networks during their critical initial phases. Poprawe also served as the vice-

president for research, structure and young scientists at RWTH Aachen for a period, during which he co-initiated the RWTH Aachen Campus, an important international technology landscape that now harbours a photonics cluster of around 30 companies. Since 2010, under Poprawe’s leadership, this cluster has been working on new ways of generating, shaping and using


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