Material Science

Dr. Hans-Joachim Konz (2nd from right), member of the Board of Management at SCHOTT and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ernst Abbe Fund, presents Dr. Akio Ikesue (2nd from left) with the Otto SCHOTT Research Award for developing ceramic laser materials. The other members of the Board of Trustees, Prof. Gerd Müller (right) and Prof. Donald Uhlmann (left) also congratulated him. Photo: SCHOTT/A. Sell
Gerhard Samulat/Thilo Horvatitsch

A Surprise to the Scientific World

Material researchers have long believed that ceramics are not suited for use as laser light sources. This year’s Otto SCHOTT Research Award winner, Dr. Akio Ikesue, proved them all wrong.

In 1990, Akio Ikesue’s doctoral thesis supervisor asked him to select the most difficult question in applied physics that he could find. He chose the generation of laser light using trans­parent ceramics. Among academic scientists, the opinion was that this is impossible, because materials for use in solid-state lasers were always limited to single-crystals or glasses. However, only a month later, Ikesue presented his supervisor with an initial sample of transparent ceramics – and completely ­surprised the scientific community.

Today, Dr. Ikesue holds 15 patents. He founded his own company, World Lab. Co. Ltd in Nagoya, is an ”Invited Professor” at the University Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, and an executive scientist for SCHOTT. His name is inseparably linked with manufacturing of unique ceramic laser materials. In 1995, he succeeded in using ceramics to achieve laser outputs that came rather close to those of single-crystals. This resulted in an intensive research and development activities that culminated in new ceramic techniques and widespread applications for the materials that were produced using this advanced ceramic process.
The opto-ceramics developed by Dr. Ikesue are transparent, not milky white like porcelain. They are well-suited for advanced laser applications, because their microstructure is free from defects. Scource: SCHOTT/Ikesue
The results obtained by Dr. Ikesue were published in well-known scientific publications. Opto-ceramics thus gained broad acceptance and have been put to use in labs all over the world. The Japanese researcher is now a frequent lecturer at the most respected conferences on lasers, materials and ceramics. Besides, he was selected by the U.S. Government to be the first project manager in Asia on the development of ceramic materials for use in generating megawatt class laser performances.

Through all of this, the successful researcher has always kept both feet on the ground: ”At the beginning, I had to acquire special expertise on the fabrication of ceramics and on laser technology,” he admits. Fortunately, he was able to stick with his research, which helped ceramics to become high quality optics for which there is no equivalent single-crystalline ­material. Now, opto-ceramics can be applied to emit rgb color lasers with previously unknown intensity. In some cases, ceramic lasers allow for up to a thousand times higher power to be generated than conventional single-crystal lasers, yet are much more compact. Opto-ceramics can even be produced more economically than ultra-pure grown single-crystals. The ceramic manufacturing technique also allows for the development of new types of transparent materials and the manufacturing of many different laser devices, ranging from high coherence lasers for telecommunications systems to high energy lasers for industrial uses, from continuous-wave lasers to short pulse lasers in the femtosecond range. The new materials can also be used for radioactive-ray scintillators, windows for high temperature ovens, aircraft or in aviation technology, and ­development of space technology.

Thus, a research field of global importance has developed out of what seemed to be an impossible challenge. Today, Dr. Ikesue is still more than willing to give his advice to younger colleagues: ”New technologies can only be developed outside of the generally accepted paths.”