Prof. Dr. Sebastian F. Mährlein: With THz Laser Pulses to the Professorship

July 08, 2024

Prof. Dr. Sebastian F. Mährlein, formerly a research group leader at the Fritz Haber Institute, has been appointed professor of High-Field THz Physics at the Technical University of Dresden and simultaneously takes over the leadership of the "High-Field THz-Driven Phenomena" department at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR). A conversation about his journey, his research, and his visions.

Academic Career

Prof. Dr. Mährlein began his impressive academic career with a degree in physics at the University of Konstanz, followed by an interdisciplinary innovation study at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam. His doctoral thesis led him to the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society, where he investigated nonlinear terahertz physics under the supervision of Prof. Tobias Kampfrath. After a postdoctoral stay at Columbia University in New York, he returned to the FHI to lead a research group in the area of THz structural dynamics. Since October 2022, he has been leading the Emmy Noether research group with the project "Circular Phononics."

Interview with Prof. Dr. Sebastian F. Mährlein

How did you come to the FHI and when?

I first came to the FHI in October 2011, after I had already co-authored a publication with Tobias Kampfrath in Konstanz. When he was looking for the first doctoral students of his new group, I was immediately on board. The second time, I returned to lead my own research group in the PC department. The unique combination of working atmosphere, laboratory equipment, and scientific drive at the FHI convinced me right away.

What did you do at the FHI?

After my doctorate, I built up my own research group upon my return in June 2020. My research focused on observing and controlling atomic lattice vibrations using extremely strong THz laser pulses. The goal was to change the fundamental physical properties of materials on ultrafast timescales, for example, to advance the understanding of efficient solar cell materials or to investigate the basics of future spin-based information technology.

How was your career supported?

My career was significantly supported by Prof. Martin Wolf, Prof. Tobias Kampfrath, and other mentors like Prof. Ralph Ernstorfer and Dr. Alexander Paarmann. The PC department offers a unique environment of scientific freedom and uncompromising support for young research group leaders.

Collaboration in your team?

Collegial teamwork in the PC department and support from the technicians were outstanding. My team, supported by the Emmy Noether Program, consisted of talented doctoral students and postdocs. My goal was always to create a world-class working atmosphere, which we have succeeded in doing over the last four years.

What do you take with you for your professional future?

The broad spectrum of scientific questions and methods, as well as the realization that a positive working atmosphere is often more productive than scientific stubbornness. The exchange with colleagues, even about everyday worries, is immensely valuable.

What awaits you?

I look forward to the double challenge in Dresden, both in fundamental research and in my new role as department head at HZDR. I am particularly passionate about democratizing the experimental methods, which I employed and advanced in recent years. Therefore, I will contribute the founding of a large-scale research facility called "Dresden Advanced Light Infrastructure" (DALI) at HZDR, for which scientists from all over the world can apply to use in a competition for the best ideas.

The Fritz Haber Institute is proud of the exceptional achievements and impressive career path of Prof. Dr. Sebastian F. Mährlein. We are happy for him and look forward to his future successes in Dresden. At the same time, we are grateful for his ongoing connection to the FHI and his contributions that have lastingly shaped the institute. We wish him all the best for his new tasks and look forward to continuing our collaboration.

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