Interview with Tom Metzger

Our former colleague Tom Metzger has been appointed managing director of TRUMPF Scientific Lasers in Unterföring, near Munich. From 2002 to 2012 he was a PhD student and postdoc in the attoworld-team. Then he was drawn to the economy. There he started as Chief Technology Officer. In the interview, he gives information about his career, what fascinates him in physics and where laser technology will look in the future.

How did you get into laser physics? And what fascinates you about this discipline?

Light has always been fascinating to me. The large variety of light in nature from sparkling stars until Alpine glow is almost magic. The main subject laser material processing of my mechanical engineering study dragged me right into laser development. An internship in a laser company in the US confirmed my decision to keep on working in the field of laser development.


You went from research to business in 2012. What made you do it?

During my time in the laboratory for attosecond physics I had already a long and very productive cooperation with TRUMPF Laser GmbH and was in the lucky situation to use industrial thin-disk laser components for building my laser amplifiers. In 2012 I had the unique opportunity to start in the new incorporated subsidiary TRUMPF Scientific Lasers as Chief Technology Officer. It was like a dream come true, founding a company based on your research and being able to shape it to your ideas and wishes was a great opportunity I had to jump at.


You are currently responsible for the development of thin-disk lasers. What do disc lasers have that others don't?

At TRUMPF Scientific Lasers I am responsible for the development of a very special type of thin-disk lasers: Ultrafast amplifiers with high pulse energies up to the Joule level and high average powers in the multi-kW regime at the same time. Thin-disk lasers are just great: The efficient one-dimensional heat removal and the small longitudinal extension of the gain medium allow the thin-disk geometry exceptional scaling performance both in terms of energy and average power. Additionally, thin-disk lasers are nowadays commodity, have reached by far than others an incredible degree of industrialization, robustness, stability and repeatability and allow us to develop at TRUMPF Scientific Lasers beautiful lasers with highest stability and reliability.


You worked on disk lasers while you were on the attoworld-team. How have they developed since 2012?

Within the lab team we were a few great and enthusiastic colleagues working on thin-disk lasers, everything we tried was new to us. Today with more than 15 years of experience in this field and a large team working and concentrating only on ultrafast thin-disk amplifiers, the development and progress is tremendous. It's amazing to see what the team is doing and achieves. I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams that we would make progress so quickly. In a few years we were able to increase the pulse energy and the average power of this lasers by almost two orders of magnitude.


Where do you see the best areas of application for disc lasers?

Thin-disk laser technology is very versatile. Thin-disk laser systems cover an extremely large bandwidth of parameters and it would be presumptuous by me to say that they have a “best area of application”. From drilling the finest holes no wider than a hair, to welding panels in ship building the variety of their applications is just incredibly large. I hope we see thin-disk lasers soon also in the field of secondary sources such as EUV generation, X-ray beams and maybe even neutron sources discovering new fields of applications.


What is the difference between your work today and when you were a young researcher?

As a young researcher I spent most of the time in the lab working in a very small team or even alone on a laser. Today I see the lab only occasionally. The strategic and operational responsibility for TRUMPF Scientific Lasers with a team of 20 researchers working on various customer projects shifted the focus clearly towards administrative activities.


What does your current job look like and what appeals to you about it?

If you are a hands-on experimentalist, the description of an administrative job sounds probably shockingly boring. But in fact, at TRUMPF Scientific Lasers, it is not, and the range of different tasks really thrills me every day. Working with the amazing team at TRUMPF Scientific Lasers on new lasers and developments is fascinating and a great honor. The direct and close contact to our customers brings us together with fascinating researchers and their exciting experiments and challenges us everyday to find working solutions.


If you look at the development of laser technology, could you make a prediction for us what lasers can do in 10 years?

Lasers will certainly conquer many other fields of application and I am probably not allowed to tell you much about what we will be working on in the future. But one thing is for sure, they will shine brighter than ever before.