The man who controls electrons

Peter Hommelhoff
FAU-Laserphysiker Peter Hommelhoff wird mit dem Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz-Preis ausgezeichnet (Bild: FAU/Harald Sippel)

FAU laser physicist Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff has won a Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has announced the winners of the 2022 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize. One of the winners is Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff from FAU. Admission to the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme is the most important research-boosting achievement in Germany and recognises outstanding academic performance.

‘FAU would like to congratulate Prof. Dr. Hommelhoff on winning this prize. He is an extremely dedicated scientist who puts his heart and soul into carrying out excellent and successful research and he is an excellent example of the passion behind research at FAU,’ says FAU President, Prof. Dr. Joachim Hornegger.

Prof. Peter Hommelhoff, who is Chair of Laser Physics at FAU, is a pioneer in several fields of physics.

His ground-breaking experiments have resulted in several breakthroughs in the field of ultrafast electron control. As a postdoctoral researcher in Stanford, he developed an electron source capable of emitting electrons at the femtosecond timescale – a femtosecond corresponds to a millionth of a billionth of a second. He also demonstrated strong field physics for the first time on solid state surfaces.

However, Peter Hommelhoff has not only significantly influenced the area of light field electronics during the last ten years. Based on his excellent work on electron sources, he has opened up a whole new field of research, namely into laser acceleration of electrons on photonic structures.

From large to small: The accelerators on a microchip

In his current research project, Hommelhoff is concentrating his efforts on significantly reducing the size of currently available particle accelerators. Whereas most people immediately think of the large ring at CERN in Switzerland where fundamental research is carried out into matter when talking about particle accelerators, Hommelhoff deals with more commonplace applications for these machines.

The technology is already being used in medicine, be it in imaging methods or in radiation oncology in the form of linear electron accelerators to treat tumours, naturally using much lower particle energies than at CERN.

Hommelhoff hopes to make particle accelerators even smaller.

In collaboration with Robert Byer at Stanford University, physicist Hommelhoff and his team are developing an electron particle accelerator that is the size of a microchip. This ‘Accelerator on a Chip International Program (ACHIP)’ has received almost 20 million dollars of funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation since 2015. The research team aims to reduce the size of common particle accelerators by a factor of 100, thus allowing clinical accelerators to become about one centimetre in size.

Peter Hommelhoff has already been awarded two of the most prestigious grants from the European Research Council for his work: the Consolidator Grant in 2014 and the Advanced Grant in 2020.

International networker

In addition to his research, Peter Hommelhoff has a network that spans the globe, with a large number of contacts in the USA as well as in Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Italy, Japan, Austria, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the Czech Republic. This is also reflected in his team at FAU: his staff come from all over the world, which demonstrates once again how attractive his working group is for aspiring young researchers.

In addition, he is also trying to attract more female scientists to the field of physics by offering them targeted support. He has been actively involved in FAU’s ARIADNE funding programme for young female researchers for several years and acts as a mentor for female doctoral candidates from other subjects.

About Professor Hommelhoff

Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff has held the Chair of Laser Physics at FAU since 2012. In 2020 he received an ERC Advanced Grant worth 2.5 million euros for developing small scale particle accelerators using nanophotonic chips. In 2014, he was awarded the ERC Consolidator Grant for his research at FAU investigating the interaction of light and solids such as sharp metal tips or graphenes.

From 2003 to 2007, Hommelhoff was a postdoctoral researcher in Stanford, and from 2008 he led a Max Planck Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, before joining FAU. From 2012 to 2018, he was associate member of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Light, Erlangen, and has been a fellow there since 2018. He has also been a member of the Board of Directors of the German Physical Society since 2018.

Hommelhoff is not only regarded as an outstanding scientist, he also has an outstanding reputation in teaching. In 2017, he was awarded the ‘Prize for Excellence in Teaching’ for the lectures Experimental Physics 1 and 2 by the Department of Physics at FAU.

Further information about Hommehoff’s research is available on the FAU website:

Leibniz Prize winners at FAU

Peter Hommelhoff is already the seventh researcher at FAU to receive this prestigious prize. The last FAU researcher to win the prize was Prof. Dr. Heike Paul for her research in the area of American studies in 2018. A list of all Leibniz Prize winners at FAU is available here.

About the prize

The Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize is awarded annually and is the most prestigious research award in Germany. Each year, up to ten prizes are awarded, each of which is worth up to 2.5 million euros. The Leibniz Programme aims to improve the working conditions of outstanding researchers, expand their research opportunities, relieve them of administrative tasks, and help them employ particularly qualified early career researchers. Prizewinners are first chosen from nominations by third parties. The Joint Committee selects the actual prizewinners based on a recommendation from the Selection Committee for the Leibniz Programme. 134 nominations were submitted for this year’s prize, from which the committee selected 10 prize winners (one shared prize).

Further information about the Leibniz prize

Further information

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