Female power at Fraunhofer IOF

Women in photonics

We have a lot of great women at the institute. They make groundbreaking inventions, lead innovative scientific teams, regulate the financial flows of the house and, as vice captain, keep the institute on course even when the waves are strong.

Hereby we highlight some of them to show how formative and enriching their work and dedication to photonics is. Because one thing is clear, if you want to get more female researchers excited about optics and physics, you need strong role models that future generations can look to for guidance.

And that's what they are:

Strong role models

Sakshi Sharma

Sakshi Sharma is doing research in our "Quantum Communication Technologies" group and was instrumental in building the source for entangled photons. With the help of this source, the first quantum-secured video conference between two German federal authorities was achieved.

Dr. Julia Hengster

Julia Hengster has managed to establish the Max Planck School of Photonics (MPSP) - a Germany-wide and renowned graduate school for photonics students - from nothing. She is a speaker in the institute management and coordinates the MPSP.

Marta Gilaberte Basset

Marta Gilaberte Basset and her team have succeeded in recording the world's first video with quantum imaging. This milestone is particularly relevant for medical technology / research, as this method no longer destroys living cells during microscopic analyses.

Dr. Nadja Felde

Nadja Felde was awarded the Applied Photonics Award in the category "Best Dissertation" in 2020 for her outstanding thesis. Since 2022 she has been a scientific speaker in the department "Functional Surfaces and Coatings" at Fraunhofer IOF.

Britta Satzer

Britta Satzer and her team have succeeded in developing a new camera concept for the automotive industry, whereby the camera only requires a system size of 10 mm. With the new camera, autonomous driving cars know whether the human behind the wheel is paying attention to the road or not.

Dr. Ramona Eberhardt

Ramona Eberhardt successfully heads the "Emerging Technologies" department. Her employees develop quantum systems for the communication and imaging sensor technologies of the future. She is also deputy institute director at Fraunhofer IOF.

Dr. Adriana Szeghalmi

Adriana Szeghalmi and her team have established the pioneering atomic layer deposition as an alternative coating method. This meets the requirements for uniform thickness of individual layers, even on highly curved or complex-shaped substrates. 

Aoife Brady

Aoife Brady conducts research on active optics. She has developed an adaptive optical box for quantum communication. This corrects phase errors in a satellite's quantum signal caused by atmospheric turbulence at the University of Vienna's ground station.

Dr. Ulrike Schulz

Ulrike Schulz is group leader and developed surface coatings with her team that even improve smartphone lenses. Thanks to the coating method, reflections could be minimized, ghost images avoided, and image contrast increased.

Josefine Canis

Josefine Canis completed her professional training at Fraunhofer IOF as the best in the Free State of Thuringia. She was awarded for this achievement by the IHK Ostthüringen and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. After graduation, she stayed with us and took up a position as a laboratory assistant.

Dr. Carolin Rothhardt

Carolin Rothhardt is a group leader and was involved in the "Opti-Bond" project, which developed new joining technologies for high-power lasers and overcame previous performance limits. In 2020, her doctoral thesis was awarded the Faculty Prize.

Dr. Claudia Reinlein

Claudia Reinlein and a small team spun off from Fraunhofer IOF in 2020 and successfully established themselves in the market. She received the Thuringia Start-up Award for her company. Now she is the CEO of Robust AO GmbH.

What we would like to see: More women in photonics

How can we get more women interested in research with light? Which modern forms of work are particularly appealing to women? What do we have to do to get girls interested in physics?

The team of Mareike Schütt and Reinhold Pabst is investigating these essential questions. They are responsible for further developing the organization. Significantly increasing the proportion of female scientists at Fraunhofer IOF is one of their most important goals. A Fraunhofer Institute without a strong quota of women is not sustainable. Heterogeneity is essential in a dynamically changing research landscape.

Schütt and Pabst want to understand what has attracted women to photonics in the past and also what ideas they are developing from their own experience for an equal-opportunity research field. To this end, the two interviewed four successful female researchers:

Women in interviews

Marta Gilaberte Basset

PhD-Candidate in the department "Emerging Technologies" in the field of quantum imaging

 

Marta would like to see some of her developments launched into space.
(Read her interview)

Nadja Felde

Deputy group leader and scientific speaker of the "Functional Surfaces and Coatings" department

 

Nadja is proud to help shape the optics community and the photonics industry.
(Read her interview)

Grucheska Rosario Rodriguez

Phd-Candidate in "Opto-mechatronical Components and Systems" department

 

Grucheska is enthusiastic about the versatility of the research projects at Fraunhofer IOF and the responsibility she is given.
(Read the interview)

Stephanie Hesse-Ertelt

Fraunhofer Research Manager & deputy head of department "Strategy, Organization, Communication", Strategic Initiatives & Business Development 

 

Stephanie would like to go into space herself. (Read the interview)

Julia Hengster

Scientific advisor to the institute management

 

Julia shifted her professional focus after her PhD and discovered science management for herself. (Read her interview)

Carolin Rothhardt

Head of the group Joining Technologies in the department "Precision Optical Components & Systems"

 

Carolin wants her manufactured components to fly in space and be applied there. (Read her interview)

Marta Gilaberte Basset

Phd-Candidate in quantum imaging

 

Please tell us something about your current research focus at Fraunhofer IOF.

I joined the Fraunhofer IOF as a PhD student in quantum optics, more specifically in quantum imaging. I develop imaging systems with quantum light sources. These imaging systems make use of quantum correlations to offer advantages such as the possibility to use different wavelengths for detection and for illuminating the object.

Quantum imaging is a very specific field. Where did the interest for this field come from?

I would not say that I had a passion for photonics from the beginning. During my studies I did a project with a company. The job was about building lasers and I really enjoyed the photonics part.

How did you end up at the Fraunhofer IOF?

After a couple of years, I felt stuck in the jobs I had. And I felt I was too young to not learn anything new anymore. I decided to leave Spain for some experience abroad and applied for a position at Fraunhofer IOF. I already knew the Fraunhofer IOF through some joint laser projects in the past and had a contact who told me about them setting up a new group for quantum optics.

Do you have any career highlights you would like to share with us?

A great experience so far has been the building of a laser for the ExoMars Mission. Also, the rapid growth of our quantum group. In the beginning it was only me and one other colleague. But over the past four years the group has grown a lot. To see that happening so fast is cool. I was able to contribute to making that happen as we built one imaging setup that was working very well, so we could advertise it and receive more funding.

What keeps you motivated?

I would like to see my work enter the market at some point, so that people would be able to benefit from the imaging system I developed. I also would love to see some of my work being launched into space.

I believe in you! :) Do you have a wish for the future of women in photonics?

When I did my Bachelor’s in Barcelona, there were 10 women out of 50 students. There seem to be more women now, but I would like to see a 50/50 ratio. Some people say girls are not interested in technology or in science, I completely disagree.

Do you have a message for young female scientists?

Value your own opinion! Be humble but be strong and persistent. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Nadja Felde

Deputy group leader and scientific speaker of the "Functional Surfaces and Coatings" department

 

What research topic have you dedicated yourself to?

In my doctoral thesis I worked on nanostructured multifunctional coatings. Later, I was also a research associate in this field.

How did you get involved with this topic and then later with Fraunhofer IOF?

I have been interested in natural sciences since elementary school. For my studies, I chose materials science rather than physics or chemistry because materials science is a good combination of all subjects. This allowed me to position myself very broadly. Already during my studies, I came to Fraunhofer IOF as a student assistant and had my first contact with optics. I was allowed to participate in various exciting projects that showed me the diversity in modern applied photonics. I liked everything so much - including the city of Jena - that I then did my doctorate in the field. After that, I worked as a research assistant and then became deputy head of the "Surface and Thin Film Characterization" group. Since 2022, I have also been a scientific speaker in the department. That means that for me it was a move away from classical science to strategy work. But I like that very much because it also gives you more responsibility.

That sounds like a pretty stringent career path. What motivates you at the moment?

I think it's great to be able to participate in the optical community, to help shape the industry and to generate new topics. Personally, I am motivated by the recognition for my performance and the appreciation of my work.
The support from my superiors has always been very important to me. You need someone who believes in you and promotes you properly.

And you certainly want to go even higher, don't you?

I would like to expand my network in the optics community and take on even more responsibility. You have to communicate such a goal in order to take off.

What do you wish for the future of women in photonics?

I would like to see us move away from a women's quota at some point. It should be a matter of course that the gender ratio is balanced, that you don't have to force it and that you don't have to point out that there are still deficits in equal opportunities in some cases. I would like to see women become more self-confident and also demand opportunities. I don't think there is a lack of professional or leadership skills. The problem is more that women don't communicate their goals or don't dare to do so because of unconscious thought patterns. We need more active promotion, more female role models, and networking opportunities to make themselves known.

Do you have a message for young female scientists?

The most important thing is to appear self-confident. You have to believe in yourself and your own expertise. This also includes accepting tasks that are challenging. Leaving your own comfort zone is an important core aspect of this. Because that's where you can grow and show that you can achieve something.

Grucheska Rosario Rodriguez

Phd-Candidate in "Opto-mechatronical Components and Systems" department

 

What are you currently researching on?

I am trying to find out if any of the properties of ferroelectric material are affected by the mechanical or thermal impact during Solder Jet bumping. Such changes would influence the optical performance of the material. This is important for knowing whether we can use this technology for the assembly of specific systems.

Did you study materials science? And how did you get to work at Fraunhofer IOF?

Yes, I did my bachelor's degree in materials science at Universidad Simon Bolivar in Venezuela. I wanted to learn why materials are chosen for different applications based on what properties. For the master's degree, I specialized in ceramic science. I learned a lot about ceramics. It is as a very powerful material that is so versatile. I got into photonics through my first job here at Fraunhofer IOF.

What do you particularly enjoy about your work here at Fraunhofer IOF?

I am excited by the versatility and responsibilities I have been assigned on the research projects I work on. The institute's research fields are enormously important for shaping the future.

That is true. And together we are on it! Would you tell us what motivates you?

What drives me is my personal curiosity. I love mastering challenges and finding solutions. I am motivated by understanding why certain things work and others do not. I am driven by the desire to always understand more. I find the universe particularly exciting because we know so little about it so far.

I feel you. But back to earth: What do you wish for the future of women in photonics?

I would like to see women become more visible in photonics. With so many men in leadership positions, I sometimes feel intimidated. We need female role models with whom we can identify. They show us that women can be influential and powerful, too. It is important to have a room full of diversity, so we can see how ideas flow differently. When I feel insecure, I remind myself of what I have already accomplished and what I am capable of. That helps me keep going. There is no point in constantly comparing yourself to others. Everyone has their own learning processes and things develop for them at a different pace.

Do you have a message for young female scientists?

If you are curious about something, follow that path and take risks. Do not set limits for yourself.

Stephanie Hesse-Ertelt

Fraunhofer Research Manager & Deputy Head of Department "Strategy, Organization, Communication", Strategic Initiatives & Business Development

 

Please tell us something about your area of responsibility.

I mainly acquire and coordinate large-scale interdisciplinary projects with many external partners at state, federal and EU level. I am also the Fraunhofer IOF's contact person for the Aviation & Space Alliance and hold other challenging internal institute positions.

Research manager, that sounds like a versatile job. Now you have been at our institute for several years. How did you come to Fraunhofer IOF back then?

I first studied physics at the Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena and then started my PhD at the Institute of Optics & Quantum Electronics. During my PhD, I worked on a topic at the interface of high-frequency spectroscopy, polymer, and biochemistry. In cooperation with various institutes, I also worked in areas initially unrelated to the subject and spent a period abroad in Japan. Since there was a restructuring in the institute at that time, which made a doctorate and further employment as originally planned no longer possible, I switched to organic and macromolecular chemistry via a detour. This allowed me to complete my doctorate on my chosen topic and to get to know many new aspects in the field of (bio)polymer chemistry. I then stayed in this topic area for a few years and worked as a research associate at the Polysaccharide Research Competence Center. In June 2012, I joined Fraunhofer IOF as a scientific officer. Thus, for the first time, I also came closer professionally to my interest in astronomy and optical space applications.

What did you take away for yourself from this intensive time in research?

There have been many exciting experiences in my career. There have also been moments when I thought I wasn't going anywhere. However, something great has always come out of i - like my stay in Japan, where I was able to develop not only professionally but also personally and get to know the country, its people, and culture.

What else motivates you?

My work feels like a hobby and opens up numerous possibilities. I'm motivated by the new things, the opportunities that present themselves and the possible applications. The results are simply exciting.

What are your personal goals for the future?

II am very happy with the current situation, with my role and the work in a research institute, and I am looking forward to further responsible tasks with ever new topics. If it comes up, I would like to be shot into space sometime.

An extraordinary goal - but not impossible. And what do you wish for the future of women in photonics?

I wish that more young women could get excited about science. At best, the spark ignites when they are still at school. Teachers play an important role here, because they can show young people the possibilities, provide advice and support, inspire them and strengthen their existing interest.

What message would you like to give to young female scientists?

Be courageous and interested, just keep going, a path will be found. Be open, however, to turns and detours. These can be valuable experiences.

Julia Hengster

Scientific advisor to the institute management

 

What is your scope of work?

My work is partly scientific and partly organizational. Thus, I also accompany internal change processes. I support the institute's management by providing input for committee work or internal meetings as well as for external events.

What was your career path like leading up to your current job?

After studying physics, I did my doctorate in Hamburg on the topic of short pulse physics. As a member of a junior group, I did a lot of pioneering work in the lab and in experiment development. However, I did not publish that much, which is why a scientific career with a professorship was out of the question for me. Therefore, I shifted my career focus and discovered science management. I then started working in this field at Fraunhofer IOF and helped establish the Max Planck School of Photonics. This is a graduate school spread over different locations that brings together young scientists and professors in a network. The goal is to interconnect the photonics sector so that scientific issues are not only addressed locally but with more cooperation. I have been a scientific officer of the institute's management since 2021.

This vividly shows that the scientific field is not always just about research, but that there are also many other exciting areas of activity. What would you describe as your professional highlight from your career so far?

For me, that was definitely the completion of my doctorate. You work towards a goal for so long and have to maintain motivation despite many obstacles. Otherwise, it's more the small successes: building a team, fighting together for a shared goal, and seeing that the collaboration works.

What motivates you beyond that?

I like to work my way into new topics and love the variety in my work. I am also motivated by not working alone but having a team by my side. I appreciate the different approaches of others as they are very helpful for my own work.

Have you set personal goals for the future?

For us science coordinators, career paths still need to develop. Leadership positions are usually filled by scientists who have distinguished themselves through their research and publications. However, I have strongly resolved not to lose sight of my private goals. I would like to intensify running and cycling as a hobby. Personal interests should not be underestimated in the area of conflicting priorities of work and private life in order to be healthy and satisfied in the long term.

Work-life balance is a really important topic that is fortunately attracting more and more attention. And on the subject of the future of women in photonics: Do you have any wishes in this regard?

I wish that leadership roles will be filled more diversely in the future, i.e., that more women will also take on personnel responsibility.

What message do you have for young female scientists?

Hard work beats talent, when talent does not work hard. These words come from the world of sports and show that hard work can help you achieve goals regardless of your talent. Many women doubt their own abilities more than their male counterparts do. Try to find personal goals to work toward. Hard work doesn't have to be time-consuming. Focus and reflection help us do the right things and find solutions.

Carolin Rothhardt

Head of the group Joining Technologies in the department of Precision Optical Components & Systems

 

What are you working on in your group?

As part of my doctorate, I have developed a new joining process for optical crystals in the department of precision engineering, which is particularly interesting for high-power laser applications. Laser crystals are firmly bonded to each other with this process. The results of my doctoral thesis are also incorporated into my current work, as we are continuing to develop the joining process in the working group.

What led you to your current field of work?

In my schooldays, I got enthusiastic about gliding. At an event, I was given the opportunity to see how the largest glider of the time was manufactured. State-of-the-art materials played an important role in this. It was extraordinary! And that was the spark that gave me the idea of studying materials science. I wanted to understand how materials work and how to specifically improve their properties.
Eventually, I started studying materials science at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. The degree program covered all my interests (chemistry, physics, computer science). During my studies, I started working as a student assistant at Fraunhofer IOF in the department Optical Systems. Later I did my PhD in the department of precision engineering. Since the beginning of 2022, I am now head of the group Joining Technologies in the department of Precision Optical Components and Systems.

So you were pretty clear from the start where you wanted to go. What do you count as your professional highlights?

A great experience was successfully defending my doctorate and being awarded the FSU Jena Faculty Prize for it. We also successfully completed an exciting project in 2021. It was about the development of an optical component designed for use in a scientific instrument that will fly in space in the future. Successfully building the demonstrator in an interdisciplinary team was a great experience.

Do you have a personal role model?

My role model is Marie Curie. In addition to her scientific success, she passed on her enthusiasm for science to her female students and encouraged them to pursue science.

What are your personal goals for the future?

A major goal is to have components we have made fly in space and be applied there. They can help answer important questions - about climate change, for example. Even if we only provide small components in a large overall system, this has an important function in the end.

With absolute certainty. And what do you wish for women in photonics?

I wish that equality would be lived even better, and that society's view would change. Personally, I have always had good conditions in my working environment for combining work and career. Globally, however, the conditions for women in science still need to be improved.

What message would you like to give to young female scientists?

You should always have a realistic goal in mind and pursue it persistently. Stay curious!