Press release | 7.6.2018
Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye/Munich, 7 June 2018 - The European Patent Office (EPO) honoured Swiss physicist, inventor and professor Ursula Keller with the European Inventor Award 2018 in the "Lifetime achievement" category, one of five award categories, at a ceremony held today in Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Over a career spanning more than three decades, her landmark advancements have included the semiconductor saturable absorber mirror (SESAM), the first practical method for creating ultra-fast pulses in solid-state lasers, as well as lasers used in consumer electronics and in quantum physics research.
"Ursula Keller has dedicated her career to research and innovations that have charted new directions in laser technology and unlocked applications in a broad range of industries such as electronics and automotive manufacturing," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. "Her work highlights Europe's role as a leader in ultra-fast laser research and implementation."
The European Inventor Award ceremony at the Théâtre Alexandre Dumas was attended by some 600 guests from the areas of politics, business, intellectual property and science. The Award is presented annually by the EPO to distinguish outstanding inventors from Europe and around the world who have made an exceptional contribution to social development, technological progress and economic growth. The winners were chosen by an independent international jury from a nomination list of more than 500 individuals and teams of inventors put forward for this year's award.
Ursula Keller is one of four women inventors being honoured with the 2018 Award, the highest number ever since it was launched in 2006.
Working at AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey in the early 1990s, Keller developed a practical approach to break up continuous laser light into extremely short pulses. The Stanford University educated physicist incorporated special reflective semiconductors as mirrors inside a laser device to create short, energetic bursts of light. Her patented semiconductor saturable absorber mirror (SESAM) technique gave lasers more accurate control over material processing and has unlocked new processing techniques in fields ranging from optoelectronics and smartphone production to medical surgery and automotive manufacturing. In her role as professor at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zurich, Keller has further developed the SESAM concept and has also designed precise scientific measuring equipment that explores fundamental physics at the quantum level.
Ursula Keller has not only helped redefine how lasers are employed; she has also broken down gender barriers. Her constant advancements of laser technology have made her a global authority in the field of ultra-fast photonics. At her ETH laboratory, she is mentoring the next generation of laser researchers - many of whom have become professors and start-up entrepreneurs - and opening doors to women in science.
Keller's work has left its mark in a broad range of industries. "There is hardly anything that is not processed with short-pulsed lasers and the applications continue to grow," she says. Ultra-fast lasers already constitute 20% of the global laser market and generated some EUR 2.2 billion in 2017. Keller's work has contributed to Europe taking a leading role in the field of ultra-fast laser development. It is home to just under three quarters of the world's highly intense, ultra-fast lasers (petawatt class) - thanks in part to a consortium of leading institutes and companies including ETH Zurich.
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