Impressions of past Photonics Days

Recap of the Photonics Days 2019

Geared towards young scientists, the traditional annual event of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF – the Photonics Days Jena – took place from September 17 to 19, 2019. Together with the photonics graduate school Max Planck School of Photonics, the participants were offered a varied program.


They tinkered, pitched and networked for all it’s worth: This year’s Photonics Days Jena was quite an affair. The annual event of the Fraunhofer IOF was organized in cooperation with the newly established Max Planck School of Photonics as an HR and career event for the first time and primarily addressed students and doctoral students.


The Makeathon of the Lichtwerkstatt Jena – the Photonics Makerspace of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena – focused on finding creative solutions to questions from the field of photonics. The elaborated projects were presented in the form of short pitches to a jury, who awarded the best idea among a large number of innovative ones.


Industry speed dating, career fair and science & industry breakfast

Moreover, the participants were offered extensive opportunities to clarify questions about their career choices: Which career paths can you chose in photonics? What is important when applying for jobs at photonics companies? In order to gain perspectives, participants had ample opportunity to meet representatives of the optics and photonics industry (at a science and industry breakfast and industry speed dates), while they could also gain insights into future trends and requirements in the industry.

Escape room

In addition to the makeathon, students could also demonstrate their scientific creativity in an escape room. Bundling their competencies, they had to solve different riddles to find their way out of the escape room.

Free lecture program: Elevator Pitches and Physics Nobel Prize winner

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, a public lecture series was added to the program. Around 300 visitors filed into the lecture hall of the Friedrich Schiller University to listen to the keynote speeches by ZEISS CEO Prof. Michael Kaschke and physics Nobel Prize winner Gérard Mourou. The “Elevator Pitches” of the Center of Excellence in Photonics, in which young scientists had to convince the audience of their research ideas in quick 3-minute lectures, also enjoyed great popularity.


René Lachmann and Benedict Diederich from the Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technologies (IPHT) received the most votes. They presented an approach for developing sophisticated microscope technology, which is otherwise only available in stationary form, as a mobile toolbox. In order for the concept to be imitable – e.g. for educational institutions or laboratory environments – the data of the project is publicly accessible. With their pitch, they prevailed over a total of seven competitors and received 20,000 euros in prize money from the funds of the Center of Excellence in Photonics.



Elevator pitches and keynote speeches of Michael Kaschke and Gérard Mourou

Creativity meets career – this is probably the best way to describe the Photonics Days 2020, which were held under the motto #Create and #Connect. Once again, Fraunhofer IOF, together with the graduate school Max Planck School of Photonics, organized the career and networking event for students of optics and photonics – and this year it was completely digital. On September 21 and 22, participants from all over the world tinkered around during the virtual makeathon of the Lichtwerkstatt Jena, evaluated the innovative ideas of the pitching scientists at the “Hot Stuff Award” and networked with representatives of the German optics and photonics industry at the interactive career fair.

Due to the corona pandemic, the entire event was held completely virtually this year, which proved to be a great advantage – at least for the diversity of the participants. Students from all over the world – for example from India, Mexico, Iran and Finland – met and networked during the two days of the event.

In Prof. Tünnermann’s keynote speech on the relevance of this discipline in the modern world, it became clear how much the research field “Photonics” can contribute to these solutions. Special attention was paid to quantum photonics and its influence in the coming years.

Prof. Andreas Tünnermann in front of a green screen in the lecture hall.
Prof. Andreas Tünnermann speaks via live video stream to the participants of the virtual Photonics Days 2020.

Afterwards, the participants started motivated into the makeathon of the Lichtwerkstatt Jena, where they developed and implemented creative solutions for photonic problems. The results of the two teams exceeded the expectations of the audience and the jury by far and proved that effective collaboration on real problems is also possible in virtual space. The team “Game Jam” won by a narrow margin with the original idea of making optical signal transmission tangible through a video game.

Many different participant faces at the online event
Screenshot during a team pitch for the Makeathon.

Impetus for research and active networking at the “Hot-Stuff-Award” and the career fair

The second day also provided a stage for young photonics talents to demonstrate their skills and enthusiasm for science and innovation. During the elevator pitches for the “Hot Stuff Award” of the High-Performance Center Photonics, young scientists presented their project ideas to a virtual audience in five minutes in short videos. Johannes Kretzschmar from the Makerspace of Lichtwerkstatt Jena won this scientific competition. In his project he wants to build a knowledge base for the automation and remote control of laboratory work. This includes the mapping of experiments on digital twins, the control via IoT infrastructure and the visualization by means of technologies for computer-aided augmented or virtual reality perception (AR and VR technologies). We are eager to see how the winning team will use the 15,000 € prize money to further develop their interesting idea.

At the career fair that followed, students and guests had the opportunity to talk to representatives of twelve companies and research institutions and received valuable career tips.

In addition, participants of the Photonics Days 2020 were able to look around and interact with other participants in the form of avatars in various virtual halls where individual companies presented themselves and posted job advertisements.

Virtual hall with posters from the Max Planck School of Photonics.
Virtual hall with posters from the Max Planck School of Photonics.

Presentation of the Applied Photonics Award

The Applied Photonics Award, a prize offered by Fraunhofer IOF, also focused on young scientists. The award honors innovative theses that are particularly relevant to applied photonics. During the event, the award-winning researchers explained their fields of research in keynote speeches and once again made it clear what diverse and exciting developments in the field of photonics can still be expected in the coming years.

The Applied Photonics Award was presented with the kind support of the Association of German Engineers (VDI) and the companies Trumpf, Jenoptik and Active Fiber Systems.

Inspiring Keynotes

The Photonics Days 2020 were rounded off by two inspiring keynotes. Prof. Ursula Keller, head of research at ETH Zurich and a proven expert in the field of ultrafast laser physics, gave exciting insights into the principle and application of an optical frequency comb. In his presentation, Dr. Stefan Traeger, CEO of JENOPTIK AG, reflected on the challenges and opportunities that the corona pandemic poses for the photonics industry and emphasized once again in this context the relevance of promoting and networking with junior researchers.