The cooperation between Prague and the Wetzlar industry region offers opportunities on both sides. (Images: Ralf A. Niggemann)
The cooperation between Prague and the Wetzlar industry region offers opportunities on both sides. (Images: Ralf A. Niggemann)

Wetzlar Network

Regional – International

Wetzlar Network has been accepted for inclusion in the “Internationalization of Leading-Edge Clusters” funding program of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The program aims to enable regional SMEs to successfully cooperate with worldwide partners in research and development.

Great news, and great plans for the future: The German government is supporting international projects to enable small and medium-sized companies to successfully engage in joint research projects with partners in other countries. The inclusion of Wetzlar Network in the BMBF’s “Internationalization of Leading-Edge Clusters” funding program opens up totally new opportunities for the network and the industrial region. In concrete terms, the approval means a 160,000 euro grant for the planning of R&D projects. A further three million euros will be supplied later in cooperation with industry to support the project’s implementation phase. The funding is being provided for the international R&D cooperation with the Czech laser research center ELI in Prague. “We are delighted with this success of Wetzlar Network and the cooperation with Prague,” said Mayor Harald Semler. “It shows yet again that the optics industry is an innovative and forward-looking pillar of the Wetzlar region.”

Funding began in January already with an 18-month conceptual phase, after which three projects are to be implemented within three years. The program is expected to unleash complementary expertise: With its 70 optics companies, 7,000 employees and an annual turnover of 2.2 billion euros, Wetzlar is Germany’s leading optics region besides Jena. The aim of the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) project in Prague is the development of state-of-the-art laser technology for scientific and industrial applications. Network Manager Ralf Niggemann is convinced: “Both centers will derive benefit from this intensive cooperation. Wetzlar will gain access to high-tech laser physics that is not available in Germany, while Prague can benefit from the short channels of communication with Wetzlar’s industries to develop new fields of application, for example in bio- and medical technology.”

It’s a five-hour drive from Wetzlar to Prague, or just under an hour’s flight from Frankfurt to the Czech capital. The city on the River Moldau is an insider tip among scientists – particularly those working in the field of optics and laser technologies. Since 2010 the number of patent applications filed by Czech researchers and developers has almost doubled – most of them in optics and organic chemistry. Prague is home to the world’s most powerful lasers.

The first visit of a Wetzlar delegation to Prague took place in August 2016 already. For Georg Korn, Head of the Department of Experimental Programs at the Prague institute, the international cooperation is pioneering: “The ELI project will bring new technologies, not only for medical imaging, diagnostics and radiotherapy, but also for materials development and inspection, X-ray optics and a lot more besides.” Stefan Borneis from the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, who is supporting the ELI project in an advisory capacity, believes it offers an opportunity for European research and industry alike. The representatives from Wetzlar and Prague all agree that the possibilities and the results of the research in the ELI project should be used across national borders. The reach of the developments in the ELI project was made clear to the visitors during a guided tour of the institute. At ELI it is already possible today to plan highly complex laser experiments using virtual reality techniques and to experience them virtually with 3D VR glasses.

In Prague, the Wetzlar delegation was welcomed with open arms, and a return visit has been scheduled to tie in with the W3+ FAIR in the Rittal Arena in February. The cooperation project will be managed by technology consultant André Noack, board member of Wetzlar Network. In the coming months, talks will be held with local companies to identify suitable R&D topics. There are some concrete ideas already: For instance, the joint development of adaptive mirrors, which compensate so-called wavefront distortions (caused by air, for example) and enable longer-range sports optics; or the elaboration of techniques for the regeneration of laser mirrors. Further ideas are: high-end mirror mounts, high-power ultrashort pulse lasers, hadron therapy and high-end metrology.


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