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Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Sandner, Berlin
am 02. Juli 2010

Rede des Präsidenten
anlässlich des wissenschaftlichen Kolloquiums “Laser Analysis and Control of Complex Molecular Systems” am 2. Juli 2010 an der Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

Dear Karl Kleinermanns,
dear guests and colleagues,
ladies and gentlemen,

life presents many occasions for celebrations, and some of them arise by themselves. For an annual birthday celebration you only need to be born once. To celebrate at some later age together with friends, family and professional colleagues requires at least some right decisions, strategies and proper achievements during one's earlier professional and private life.

For a celebration like today you need to work much harder. Looking back on decades of a successful professional life in Chemistry, Physics, the University environment and - last but not least - in the DPG requires exceptional engagement for the scientific community and profound scientific knowledge - something you, dear Karl Kleinermanns, can certainly be proud of.

Therefore, it is my great pleasure to convey today the best wishes and greeting of the German Physical Society DPG as its President. In addition, it is my pleasure to convey, together with my fellow director Thomas Elsässer and our non-present colleague Marc Vrakking and former colleague Ingolf Hertel, the best wishes and greetings of the Max Born Institute Berlin where you have served as Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for the last few years.

It is not by chance that you, dear Karl Kleinermanns, have been appointed to this function. MBI is one of Germany's and Europe's major laser institutes, covering light-matter interactions on ultra-short time scales and up to highest intensities with atoms, molecules, plasmas, and condensed matter. Your scientific expertise lies in the laser analysis and control of complex molecular systems, where you are among the leading figures within the German and international scientiifc landscape. Therefore it was inevitable that, in 2007, you eventually became Chair of the Division of Molecular Physics in the DPG – this is when we first had closer personal contact as I was still heading the AMOP Section of the DPG at that time. Soon afterwards you were appointed Member of MBI's Scientific Advisory Board and later elected as its Chair. In all these functions it was – and still is - my great pleasure to rely on your scientific advice, enjoy your personal warmth and get engaged in many discussions on professional matters and beyond.

The subject of both our scientific interest is the laser. On a day like today I cannot resist making a few comments on this exceptional phenomenon which is both a device and a physical principle. Laser devices come and go – Karl and I have both seen many technological incarnations of the laser which have meanwhile mostly disappeared: dye lasers, some types of gas lasers, metal vapor lasers and early types of solid state lasers, to name only a few. The laser principle, however, population inversion and stimulated emission, seems younger than ever. This is reflected in the fact that the European scientific laser community, spearheading the global developments in this area, is setting out to construct the world's most powerful laser at a level of hundreds of Petawatts. At the same time laser pulses are becoming ever shorter: from pico- to femto- and even attoseconds they are revealing the dynamics of matter on the molecular and atomic level about which we will will hear more during this Colloquium.

On May 16, 1960, when the first laser fired, Karl Kleinermanns was just ten years old. I don't know about him but I, being of similar age, still remember having seen an article in a popular youth magazine with the picture of a simple device, consisting only of a helical flash lamp and a ruby rod, both enclosed by a metal tube. At that time I thought it can't be too difficult to build one of these. Of course, I was wrong. In fact, few days ago, in Paris, I had the opportunity to meet Ted Maiman's wife Kathrin, a rather impressive person. She explained that her late husband, the constructor (not inventor) of the first laser, actually performed a lot of calculations on atomic transition moments before he came up with the right combination of active material, chromium atoms embedded in a sapphire crystal, rod geometry and pumping power of the most powerful photographic flashlamp he was able to get. So, the first laser was not an accidental discovery but the result of serious scientific calculations of a curious scientist.

During a celebration of the 50th birthday of the laser Kathrin Maiman brought along her husband's original first laser and fired it in front of a crowd of distinguished scientists. They were utterly excited by this unspectacular red spot flashing on the back of a lecture hall, seemingly no brighter than one of today's laser pointers. 50 years ago, however, it had triggered off one of the most important innovations of the last century, laying the foundations for professional careers of many of us scientists who are assembled here today.

Amazement and passion for science and research is perhaps the most important value which a scientist can bring to the society. This brings me back to Karl Kleinermanns, the scientist and teacher. For the moment I will gracefully ignore the fact that you have been trained as a Chemist and will focus on your achievements for the German Physical Society DPG. You have been a member of DPG since 13 years. I should note that back in 1997 the DPG was quite different from today: when you joined you were one of only 30.000 members while today we have more than 58.000 members, more than half of them being youngsters like pupils, students and graduate students.

Such continuing growth requires commitment by leading scientists to assume responsibilites and functions within the society. Karl Kleinermanns is an excellent example, having been a leading character within the Division of Molecular Physics, one of the Divisions with highly inter-disciplinary orientation. From 2004 until 2007 he was Vice Chair of the Division, from 2007 until 2010 its Chair.

In 2007 he organized the memorable AMOP Spring Meeting of the DPG in Düsseldorf. It comprised the Divisions of Atomic, Molecular, Optical, Plasma and Short-Time Physics, and Mass Spectrometry. More than 1.500 physicists attended, including such renowned scientists as the Nobel Laureates Wolfgang Ketterle, Theodor Hänsch and Roy Glauber. The amount of engagment for this meeting is reflected in the scientific program which comprises more than 300 printed pages.

Scientific exchange as it occurs in our Spring Meetings is of central importance for the recognition of physics within the society. In particular, students and young scientists gain their first insight into the multitude of topics, research methods and results. As an eminent example I would like to mention one of the highlights of the Düsseldorf AMOP meeting for young physicists. It was a joint event between the Heinrich Heine University and the Working Group „young DPG“, featuring Nobel Laureate Wolfgang Ketterle in discussions with students from Universities and High Schools. The participants of this informal meeting are still excited about it. Such events like the one in Düsseldorf are key experiences for young scientists. They form the image of a scientific field, and we need them to convince students to choose physics for their career, especially laser physics which is desperate need for human resources Europe-wide.

Such events are also one of the reasons why the DPG meetings are continuously growing over the last years, and why more than half of our members consist of young scientists and students.

Therefore, dear Karl Kleinermanns, it is my special pleasure to express DPG's gratitude for your exceptional achievements for our society, my thanks as an MBI director for your services in our Scientific Advisory Board and my personal appreciation of many encounters and exchanges of opinions on physics and other topics.

I wish all of you an exciting Colloquium and a memorable birthday celebration!

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