Prof Keller leads the way for female laser researchers

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Ursula Keller, a pioneer in ultrafast laser research, is to become the first female recipient of the Laser Institute of America’s Arthur L. Schawlow Award.

Keller will receive her award at Institute's 32nd annual International Congress on Applications of Lasers and Electro-Optics (ICALEO), which will be held in Miami, Florida in October. A professor of physics at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich since 1993, Keller leads the ultrafast laser physics group. She has also been a director of the Swiss government's National Center of Competence in Research's Molecular Ultrafast Science and Technology programme since 2010.

Born 1959 in Zug, Switzerland, she received a physics degree from ETH Zurich in 1984 and a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University in 1989. She was a member of the technical staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey from 1989 to 1993.  She was a Visiting Miller Professor at UC Berkeley in 2006, and a visiting professor at the Lund Institute of Technologies in 2001.

'My fundamental mission is to explore and push the frontiers in ultrafast science and technology, using interdisciplinary understanding of the physics of lasers, semiconductors, and measurement technologies,' Keller explained.

'One of my current focus areas is high average power ultrafast lasers, where we push the performance frontier with SESAM mode-locked thin-disk lasers into the multi-100W average output power regime. We have pushed pulse energy and the average power of ultrafast laser oscillators by four orders of magnitude from typically 1nJ to >10µJ and from ≈100mW to >270W directly from laser oscillators without additional amplifiers.'

Another focus of Keller's efforts is on novel ultrafast semiconductor lasers to create more compact and less-expensive ultrafast devices. Keller said: 'We made fast progress in output power and pulse duration after the first demonstration of passively mode-locked external cavity surface emitting lasers (VECSELs) in collaboration with professor Anne Tropper in 2000. A more recent highlight is a femtosecond VECSEL with more than 1W average output power.'