May 2018
Prof. Dr. Markus Degünther Endowed Professor for Optics and Optical Technologies at the University of Applied Sciences for Central Hessen (THM). (Photo: Ralf A. Niggemann)
Wetzlar Network & THM

Markus Degünther

In January, Prof. Dr. Markus Degünther assumed the endowed professorship for Optics and Optical Technologies at the University of Applied Sciences for Central Hessen (THM). In our interview he talks about visions, innovations, and possible cooperations.

We met Prof. Dr. Markus Degünther four weeks before he took up office in building C1 of the THM in Friedberg. Everything here is new, not only for the new endowed professor. The first impression confirms the professional reputation which precedes him and the great curiosity with which he approaches his tasks. These are the best qualifications for the endowed professorship to become a real benefit.

W3+: Mr Degünther, you are meteorologist with a doctorate. Could you please explain what the weather has to do with optics?

Markus Degünther: Meteorology is atmospheric physics. And in atmospheric physics the so-called radiation balance is absolutely crucial. What happens with the sunlight in the atmosphere, or more precisely, for example, with the infrared radiation? From this point of view, optics is at the bottom of atmospheric physics. I studied this subject thoroughly for my dissertation and also afterwards at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics of the German Aerospace Center in Oberpfaffenhofen.

W3+: After that, your career took you to Carl Zeiss SMT in Oberkochen.

Markus Degünther: Correct. There, I worked in optical design where I designed concepts for optical systems and put them into practice. For the most part, it was all about production facilities and processes in the semiconductor industry where calculations for optical systems are actually made in the range of nanometers. And this means both in production and inspection. In addition, there were some topics of research which involved and affected completely new business areas.

W3+: This means your knowledge is based on a lot of experience?

Markus Degünther: Theoretical knowledge is one of the basic prerequisites. But it is just as important to have application-oriented knowledge which aims at putting the laws of optics into practical use and at applying them productively. For this purpose, well-founded knowledge and a broad range of experience are indeed indispensable. Especially since in modern applications, hardly any optical system has to function on its own but is almost always interacting with extremely complex electromechanical correlations.

W3+: In addition to your occupation at Carl Zeiss SMT you also gave lectures at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University DHBW in Heidenheim which means that you know both the industry and the university business. Do you see the endowed professorship at the THM as a similar constellation in different circumstances?

Markus Degünther: My experience in both areas is certainly valuable considering the profile of the endowed professorship. For me, scientific research is the core business, and this means the exchange both with my colleagues at the THM and with representatives of the industry. What I like best are the centers of competence at the THM where experts from different disciplines are working on mutual topics. These range from materials research over biotechnology and information technology to nanotechnology and photonics. I already explained that the subjects optics and optical technologies offer many connecting factors. I see great potential here which I want to utilize.

W3+: Does this also include teaching?

Markus Degünther: Yes, of course. It’s in the nature of things, so to say. Optics is considered to be one of the key technologies of the future. Take for example the path-breaking topics Industry 4.0, autonomous driving or the production of semiconductors – none of them would work without optics. This means on the other hand that key qualifications from the field of optics are becoming more and more important in courses like physical engineering, machine engineering, or computer engineering, for example.

W3+: In what way do you want to set your own focal points and to what extent will you be able to do so?

Markus Degünther: I have a special interest in three-dimensional visualizations. This is not about revolutionizing 3D glasses but about complex spatial visualization technology which could be applied in 3D metrology, for instance. Perceiving and measuring are also a big deal when it comes to “augmented reality” or the “internet of things”. These fields of research are downright destined to be worked on in an interdisciplinary way.

W3+: And these are also topics which the industry considers as the driving forces of innovation.

Markus Degünther: That’s right. My function and my tasks are aimed in two directions: for one thing to work on topics which already have a certain relevance in the industry and for another to anticipate projects for which we have to initially enthuse and win over the industry. In both cases, the intense exchange with companies from the region is of vital importance. That’s something I’m particularly looking forward to.

W3+: That means, your position requires you to communicate and represent intensively?

Markus Degünther: I think so, yes. It is very important for me to develop the awareness about what may result from cooperation between industry and university. It’s very popular for big corporations to use the development competence of universities and research facilities. However, the many small and medium-sized innovative companies in the region find it more difficult to do the same. From their point of view, cooperation with universities is often out of reach and associated with a lot of bureaucracy, organization, and expenditure. We want to help them to overcome their reluctance and insecurity in this respect.

W3+: For the next five years, the endowed professorship is funded with a total amount of € 900,000 by twelve companies from the region. Do they have a “preemptive right”, so to speak, on cooperation projects?

Markus Degünther: No, the endowed professorship is deliberately designed in such a way as to allow cooperations with all companies in the region. This has been laid down very clearly in the endowment contract. All inquiries for cooperation projects are treated the same. That’s why we invite everybody to contribute their ideas.

W3+: What in particular do you have in mind?

Markus Degünther: First of all, I am available as the contact in charge. In addition, I will actively make a move towards the companies. The planned Optics Center which is developing in Wetzlar will be a very important component for the success of any possible cooperation. There, we will not only create the technological basis for high-quality developments and research but also a structural framework which will be used to quickly pave the way for projects and bring them to a close efficiently. In view of the rapid developments in optics and electronics we can thus make a crucial difference in technology. A difference which will be to the benefit of both the university and the industry.