Feature Story | 11-Dec-2023

Optics and Photonics: High-tech Center for KIT

Karlsruhe Center for Optics and Photonics sets standard and uses synergies – interdisciplinarity pushes exchange and innovation

Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)

“Science needs inspiring places like KCOP, where expertise, excellence, and top-level laboratory equipment meet with interdisciplinary collaboration,” said Professor Oliver Kraft, KIT Vice President Research, at the roofing ceremony for the new building last week (December 1, 2023). “This will leverage synergies, ideas, and innovations and eventually contribute to the technological and digital sovereignty of Germany.”


Optics and photonics are among the key technologies of our modern society. Glass fibers, photovoltaics, sensors, microscopes, microchips, and nanomaterials – they all are based on the use of light. “Our technologies are essential ingredients of the energy transition, digitalization, and networking and they are indispensable for recording data in industry and science,” Christian Koos summarizes. He is Professor of the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Electronics and of the Institute of Microstructure Technology of KIT as well as Scientific Director of KCOP.


2 000 Square Meters of Clean Room and Laboratory Areas

Koos points out that excellent laboratories and laboratory equipment are prerequisites of cutting-edge research in these areas. Dr. Lothar Hahn, KCOP project manager, adds that the instruments are highly specialized and rooms have to meet very high requirements: “For our work, we need clean rooms. These are rooms with very few particles. Let me give an example why this is so important: A human hair is about 20 times thicker than one of our components. Any particle present would destroy our components.” Creating such experimental conditions, however, represents a considerable effort. So far, small and partly outdated clean rooms have been available at various institutes of KIT. KCOP will now set new standards and use synergies. “As of 2026, research teams use an internationally outstanding technology platform with about 2,000 square meters of clean rooms and laboratory areas and a pool of instruments. Thanks to their joint use, more efficient operation will be possible,” Koos emphasizes. Apart from Karlsruhe, there are only few places in Europe where degree programs are offered in optics and photonics. With KCOP, KIT will become even more attractive for researchers, students, and industry partners. 


Interdisciplinary Dynamics, Sustainable Building

At KCOP, researchers of various disciplines will meet and discuss under one roof: “KCOP will give rise to an entirely new level of interdisciplinary dynamics,” Koos says. The technology center will mainly be available to the institutes of KIT, but also external research teams will be given the opportunity to work there. The planned fields of work will include renewable energies, novel communication technologies, quantum components, life sciences, digital fabrication on the nanoscale, and customized materials. 


The Helmholtz Association funds the new building with about EUR 50 million, another 6 million come from KIT. Ongoing construction work is on schedule and budget. According to Lothar Hahn, the building was planned such that the silver standard can be reached. The latter is defined in the “Assessment system for sustainable building” of the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development, and Building. For this, good insulation of the building, highly efficient heat recovery, and use of recycled and environmentally compatible construction materials must be ensured. The waste heat of another large experimental facility in the vicinity is used for heating the new building. 


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