New Director at Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics

Prof. Dr. Günther Hasinger succeeds Prof. Dr. Alexander M. Bradshaw

October 22, 2008

On 1 November 2008 Professor Dr. Günther Hasinger is to take up his appointment as Scientific Director of Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics (IPP) at Garching and Greifswald. He succeeds Professor Dr. Alexander M. Bradshaw, who has headed IPP since 1999. The research objective of IPP is to develop a fusion power plant, which, like the sun, derives energy from fusion of atomic nuclei.

After studying physics Günther Hasinger, born in 1954 at Oberammergau, did his PhD at Ludwig Maximilian’s University (LMU), Munich, and Max Planck Institute of Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), Garching. He then joined MPE, where he was concerned with the EXOSAT, GINGA and ROSAT X-ray satellites. When the position control system of ROSAT failed soon after it was launched, he developed a new type of control system with a team of scientists in conjunction with industry: the board computers were re-programmed accordingly from the ground. It was thus possible to save the expensive satellite and successfully continue the mission for many years. The position control system devised for this emergency has meanwhile been adopted in numerous other satellites. In 1995 Günther Hasinger took his lecturership qualification at LMU, Munich. After research spells in the USA he had been given a chair at the University of Potsdam in 1994. At the same time he was appointed as a Director at the Astrophysical Institute Potsdam (AIP); from 1998 he was spokesman for the Board. Under his leadership the former institute of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR became a modern institute of the Leibniz Society. In 2001 he was finally made a Scientific Fellow and Director of the X-ray and Gamma Group of MPE at Garching.

Günther Hasinger ranks among the world’s leading capacities in the fields of cosmology and X-ray astronomy – the investigation of outer space in X-ray light. With ROSAT he was able to show that cosmic background X-radiation, a very old and puzzling phenomenon, is emitted by massive Black Holes in the centres of distant galaxies. Thanks to his decisive contribution to this research, it is now known that these Black Holes constitute the seedlings of galaxies and motors for their development – results for which Günther Hasinger was award the Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation in 2005. Since then he has played a key role in the development of future X-ray observatories such as eROSITA, Simbol-X and XEUS/IXO. These will serve to clarify the early development of Black Holes and galaxies as well as the nature of Dark Energy and Dark Matter – all of this being work which he will now pass on with a “heavy heart” to a successor at MPE.

“It was the challenge to tackle a major and exacting, and at the same time completely new, task which induced me to take up my new appointment in plasma physics and fusion research at IPP”, states Professor Hasinger. At IPP he will contribute not only his experience in heading major international projects, but also concrete research methods: for example, plasma physics will benefit from his application of X-ray diagnostics, so important to his previous work, in conjunction with astrophysics groups. The measuring devices developed for observing X-radiation in outer space are now to be used to image the hard X-ray light emitted by plasma in Garching’s ASDEX Upgrade fusion device and thus help to clarify the plasma state.

His predecessor, Professor Dr. Alexander M. Bradshaw, born in 1944 in Bushey, UK, played a decisive role in shaping international fusion research during his almost ten-year term of office. Alex Bradshaw was committed to European coordination of fusion research through his efforts in numerous national and European committees and made a substantial contribution to intensifying the integration of European fusion research. In particular, he did much to promote the ITER international large-scale project and played an essential part in paving the way to Europe for the fusion test reactor. The device, to be built in Cadarache, France, will be the first to produce an energy-yielding plasma under conditions like those in a power plant.

Bradshaw’s term of office witnessed the start of installation work on the new type of fusion device, Wendelstein 7-X, at the Greifswald branch of IPP, the opening of ASDEX Upgrade at Garching for use by scientists from all over Europe, but also the politically prescribed freezing of national funding at the level of 2002: “Notwithstanding major scientific successes, in fusion research from 2002 till today there has been no compensation for the high rises in prices and salaries. In the course of these years there have in real terms been less and less funds available to us, which has had an increasingly adverse effect on the research work of the institute,” states Alex Bradshaw: “I wish my successor good fortune in overcoming this restriction, especially since the present time is highly exciting for fusion research: ITER is to demonstrate that nuclear fusion as a source of energy is feasible. Also Wendelstein 7-X and the new machines in the up-and-coming fusion countries, China, India and South Korea, promise exciting results. My successor, Günther Hasinger, is leaving the field of astronomy in a highly productive phase – the basis has now been laid for similar achievement in fusion research.”

Isabella Milch

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