The early years: 1976 to 1981
The history of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) began on 1 January 1976, when a Laser Research Group was set up at the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics (IPP). This group, an initiative of Professor Herbert Walther, Professor Ludwig Kompa and Dr. Siegbert Witkowski, was formed under the terms of an agreement between the Federal Ministry of Research and Technology and the Max Planck Society.
The core of the research group was formed by 46 members of staff of the IPP, working on the development of high-power lasers and their application in fusion research. Their goal was to investigate laser sources with a view to possible new applications in plasma physics, chemistry, spectroscopy and related fields.
The MPQ expands: 1981 to 1993
In the same year, with the appointment of Professor Theodor Hänsch (then at Stanford University), a fourth division was set up at the MPQ, on Laser Spectroscopy. Like Herbert Walther, Theodor Hänsch was also given a chair at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich, which further cemented the institute´s links with the university.
Since 1985 the Research Group on Gravitational Waves at the MPQ has been concerned with the development of laser interferometers to detect gravitational waves. Out of this work grew a cooperation with the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow. In 1989 the GEO600 project was launched, which involved the building of a laser interferometer system with an arm length of 600 metres at a site near Hanover.
The MPQ changes: 1993 to todayIn 1993 the retirement of Dr. Siegbert Witkowski ushered in a period of generational change at the institute, also associated with a gradual reorientation in the research programme. The experiments with the Asterix high-power laser were concluded. The laser was dismantled in 1997 and at the end of 1998 transferred to Prague to the Institute of Plasma Physics at the Academy of Sciences, where it is still operational today. Other work on light-plasma interaction was now continued by a working group on Laser Plasma under the direction of Professor Klaus-Jürgen Witte and Professor Jürgen Meyer-ter-Vehn, in the period up to 2004.
In 1999 Professor Gerhard Rempe (then University of Constance) was appointed as director at the MPQ, and the Quantum Dynamics Division was set up.
In 2001 the Research Group on Gravitational Waves moved to Hanover where the first test measurements were carried out in the experiment. Since then that group has been a part of the MPI of Gravitational Physics (Potsdam) that was founded in 1995. In the same year (2001) Professor Ignacio Cirac (then University of Innsbruck) accepted a call as director at the the MPQ and set up the first Theory Division at the institute.
At the beginning of 2003 Professor Herbert Walther acquired emeritus status, but continued his research work as head of the Laser Physics Emeritus Group until his death in July 2006. His successor as director at the MPQ and professor at the LMU is Professor Ferenc Krausz (previously Technical University of Vienna). Professor Krausz has led the Attosecond Physics Division since 2003.
When Professor Karl-Ludwig Kompa became an emeritus professor in March 2006, all the founding fathers of the institute were thus now in retirement. In parallel with these retirements not only were three new divisions established but also several independent research groups founded: In 2004 the Attosecond Driver Laser Group was formed, whose leader Dr. Andrius Baltuska took up a professorship at the Technical University of Vienna in 2006. The same year also the Quantum Simulations with Trapped Ions Group was founded, led by Dr. Tobias Schätz, who accepted a call as professor at the University of Freiburg at the end of 2011. From 2005 until his call at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in 2010 Dr. Tobias Kippenberg was head of the Laboratory of Photonics at the MPQ. In 2006 Dr. Reinhard Kienberger received funding to set up another research group, on Attosecond Dynamics. He has received a call as Professor at the Technische Universität München in 2009. In 2007 a further research group was added, on Attosecond Imaging, led by Dr. Matthias Kling. In January 2008 Dr. Masaki Hori started his group on Antimatter Spectroscopy, followed by the Ultrafast Quantum Optics group of Dr. Peter Hommelhoff in April 2008. Since 2011 Dr. Elefterios Goulielmakis is setting up his research group on Attoelectronics, financed by a grant of the European Research Council.
In a colloquium in memory of Prof. Herbert Walther that took place in July 2007 the MPQ lecture hall was named after this great person and scientist.
On 1 August 2008 a fifth division Quantum Many Body Systems was established by Prof. Immanuel Bloch. Prof. Bloch is successor of Prof. Theodor W. Hänsch, who would have normally retired in 2009, as director at MPQ. Due to special agreements Prof. Hänsch will remain professor at the LMU and director at the MPQ at least until 2016. One research focus of Prof. Bloch is the investigation of ultracold quantum gases in optical lattices. These systems may help to model solid states and to get a better understanding of special properties like e.g. high temperature superconductivity.