Careers in laser science

One of the main objectives of Laserlab-Europe is to strengthen the leading role of Europe in laser research. Evidently, providing a stimulating and nourishing environment for (young) researchers is an important aspect of this task. Here, a number of European laser scientists give some insight into their past and current occupations, and the influence Laserlab-Europe has had on their careers.



"The Laserlab node CUSBO/POLIMI provided me with a unique and exiting environment, which triggered ground-breaking experiments crucial for my career"

The main focus of my research is to track, and ideally control, in real time the electron dynamics occurring in matter. To this purpose, my group develops table-top light sources providing attosecond time resolution. The Laserlab node CUSBO/POLIMI provided me with a unique and exciting environment, which triggered ground-breaking experiments – crucial for my career. Within Laserlab-Europe I had the chance to collaborate with well-known international research groups, leading to results that have been published in high-impact journals. All of this contributed to the opportunity of being successful in the Helmholtz Recruiting Initiative, which allowed me to get a full professor position at Hamburg University and a staff position at DESY, where I currently lead the Attosecond Science Division. Recently, I have been also awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant to understand the role of the electron dynamics in the photo-induced chemical changes that occur in our own biomolecules (e.g., DNA and proteins) in a bottom-up approach. This important research is conducted in collaboration with the CUSBO/ POLIMI node.”


"Already in the first weeks of my PhD I had the opportunity to benefit from the Laserlab-Europe network"

For my PhD I worked in the group of Prof. Salvatore Stagira and Dr. Caterina Vozzi at POLIMI. Research there is at top level; I had the opportunity to put my hands on cutting-edge laser sources and to perform complex experiments with ultra-intense laser pulses. Already in the first weeks of my PhD I had the opportunity to benefit from the Laserlab-Europe network, through a CUSBO project involving the Imperial College. Thus, I rapidly got in contact with the international community, doing amazing experiments on ultrafast molecular spectroscopy – a topic which, together with attosecond pulse generation, has accompanied me along my whole scientific experience. Many successful collaborations enabled by the Laserlab network would follow, including ones with the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, the INCDTIM in Cluj, and DESY in Hamburg. Recently, I started to feel ready for a new experience, where I could exploit all the skills I developed as a scientist – both technical and soft skills – in a commercial setting. This is why I decided to accept an offer from BIOS, which is a rapidly growing SME in the field of aesthetic medical devices that is investing in development of home-built laser sources and platforms


"I performed many Laserlab-funded experiments and found two of my positions via the Laserlab-Europe website"

Even though I only started to study physics when I was 26 years old already, I am now responsible for the scientific programme of the Centro de Laseres Pulsados (CLPU) in Salamanca, and I hold the Laser-Plasma chair at the University of Salamanca. Laserlab-Europe has been very helpful for my career, because I performed many Laserlab-funded experiments. This started in 2009 with an experiment about fast electron transport in shock-compressed targets at LULI (Paris) and was followed by projects at CELIA (Bordeaux), PALS (Prague), and GSI (Darmstadt). Today, my students are involved in Laserlab experiments at LULI and GSI as well. In addition, I found two of my positions via the Laserlab-Europe website: the call for senior scientists at ELI-ALPS in 2013 and for the Laser-Plasma chair at CLPU in 2014. I am currently involved in the Laserlab Joint Research Activity LEPP, and I organised workshops of the Networking Activity on Ultra-intense Ultrafast Lasers (NAUUL) and the Networking activity on Extreme Intensity Laser Systems (NEILS), both in Salamanca in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

"Since 2012 I have been involved in four experimental campaigns supported by Laserlab-Europe"

I have been a Laserlab user since 2012, when as a postdoc at the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ I submitted, as Principal Investigator, a proposal to realise an experiment on laser amplification mediated by ion waves in a plasma. I applied for access to a Laserlab facility, LULI, with a group of colleagues from Italy, Germany and France. Since then Laserlab-Europe supported three other experimental campaigns at LULI, which were motivated by the encouraging results obtained on the way. In these projects, we have demonstrated the possibility to amplify a sub-picosecond pulse up to a factor five, through interaction between two laser beams and a plasma ion wave. This plasma-based laser amplification has become an important part of my scientific production, carried out in parallel to other research activities – including other Laserlab partnerships. The possibility to develop this project has allowed me to gain a unique expertise in this domain, which has been acknowledged by invited conferences and workshops and a Young Scientist prize in 2015. It certainly played a major role as well in my recruitment at CNRS in 2016.”

"Our project with the Cancer Research Centre of Marseille funded by the Laserlab-Europe Transnational Access programme led to a publication in Nature"

I obtained my PhD in the Physics of Living Systems group at LaserLaB Amsterdam, partner of Laserlab-Europe, where I worked on techniques combining optical tweezers with super-resolution (STED) microscopy, Acoustic Force Microscopy (AFS) and Optical Pushing. These methods are used to manipulate and study single biological molecules (such as DNA and proteins) and their interactions in order to create a deeper understanding of how life works, and they were developed partly within the Laserlab Joint Research Activity BIOAPP and predecessors. In 2016, our investigation into how DNA is repaired when a double-stranded break occurs led to a publication in Nature. This project was part of a collaboration with the Cancer Research Centre of Marseille, funded by the Laserlab-Europe transnational access programme. At the end of my PhD I joined LUMICKS, a spin-off company of LaserLaB Amsterdam, as a cofounder to bring the technologies that I co-invented to the market. This enables life scientists around the world to perform ground-breaking research with tools that until recently were only available in advanced biophysics labs. We have already installed over twenty instruments world-wide in two years, allowing us to grow to a business with over twentyfive employees. As a product manager, my role is to set out the technology roadmap of LUMICKS.

"My postdoctoral fellowship at Laserlab-Europe partners ISMO and LUMAT-LASERIX gave me the opportunity to explore my research topic through different approaches"

I am working on the spectral and temporal characterisation of plasma-based XUV lasers, which is crucial for the development of advanced architectures involving external seeding with high-order harmonics (so-called ‘seeded XUV lasers’), and which is one of the objectives of the Laserlab Joint Research Activity ILAT. During my PhD thesis, I have shown that the temporal and spectral properties can be simultaneously retrieved from the measured linear autocorrelation of the pulse. As a postdoc at ISMO, I have been able to further clarify the physical interpretation of this feature. My postdoctoral fellowships at Laserlab-Europe partners ISMO and LUMAT-LASERIX gave me the opportunity to explore my research topic through different approaches: I worked on the characterisation and on the improvement of the source properties, while using and developing both theoretical and experimental tools. I also had the opportunity to perform experiments at LASERIX: first as a Principal Investigator for the ISMO team and now as a staff member of the facility, where I am directly involved in developing and operating the seeded XUV laser source. In these experiments I have used a variety of methods, techniques and tools, which broadened my range of skills: in numerical simulations, as an experimentalist, and more generally in conducting collaborative projects.

"The fact that our group was part of Laserlab-Europe allowed us to present the results of the OPCPA system we developed, and to initiate various experiments with it"

After my PhD I joined the Attosecond and Ultrafast Optics (AUO) group of Jens Biegert at Laserlab-Europe partner ICFO, where we developed a 100 kHz Optical Parametric Chirped Pulse Amplifier (OPCPA) system operating at a wavelength of 3 microns. The fact that the group was part of Laserlab-Europe allowed us to present the results of the system and to initiate various experiments with it, for example on surface plasmon enhanced strong-field photoemission with the group of Peter Dombi from Budapest, Hungary. In the group we also had a Ti:Sapphire system, allowing us to explore strong-field physics and High Harmonic Generation. When I joined the Laser Department of Thales in France, I worked on the first commercial 1Hz Petawatt laser system (BELLA). I am now involved in the development and completion of a 2x10 PW laser system with very high contrast for ELI-NP. This laser system uses hybrid OPCPA/ Ti:Sapphire technology, meaning that I can combine my expertise of both techniques gained at ICFO. The link with my previous work does not stop here, as we even have established a partnership between Thales and ICFO for developing a new 7 μm OPCPA source able to deliver ultrashort pulses at 100 Hz with several millijoules of output energy.

"Contact with my current employer originates at Laserlab-Europe partner ICFO: we were a very good customer of TOPTICA with our ion trap experiment"

Contact with my current employer, TOPTICA Photonics AG in Munich, originates at Laserlab-Europe partner ICFO, where I obtained my PhD studying quantum networking with remote ion traps in the group of Jürgen Eschner: we were a very good customer of TOPTICA with our ion trap experiment. I stayed in touch with the people that installed our laser system, and I visited the company at their booth at conferences. There are several things that I learned at ICFO that are very useful for me now. For instance, I am responsible for the frequency comb product line at TOPTICA, and cold atom and ion trap experiments are users of frequency comb technology. It is essential for me as product manager to understand the applications of our technology, and to be able to communicate to the customers on the same technical level. In addition, I feel that the experience of building a technically very challenging experiment from scratch gives me a very broad understanding and confidence with optics, fine mechanics, software control, laser physics, fiber optics, etc. Finally, I have a network from my time at ICFO. Since I am still working in photonics, I do meet people from ICFO wherever I go. Some of them are customers now, others are useful contacts for technical counsel or might become an interesting option when it comes to recruiting good people