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Sinje positions a mirror on the optical table – she can see what happens as a result magnified on the monitor.

A highly practical PhD: Sinje is building deformable mirrors for space telescopes and lasers

Sinje Leitz has a steady hand. She keeps cool as she builds, glues and wires a small mirror using tweezers and needles under the microscope. Just how small? 1.5 centimetres in diameter, with individual components less than half a millimetre thick. Sinje is writing her PhD thesis at our university’s Photonics Laboratory under Professor Ulrich Wittrock. “I wanted to focus on practice – and this is just the place!”

A highly practical PhD: Sinje is building deformable mirrors for space telescopes and lasers

Sinje Leitz has a steady hand. She keeps cool as she builds, glues and wires a small mirror using tweezers and needles under the microscope. Just how small? 1.5 centimetres in diameter, with individual components less than half a millimetre thick. Sinje is writing her PhD thesis at our university’s Photonics Laboratory under Professor Ulrich Wittrock. “I wanted to focus on practice – and this is just the place!”

She is currently working on a project for the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA requires deformable mirrors for space telescopes, which are being developed on our campus. It is still a long way until the first space telescope with a deformable mirror will be launched into space. But the first adaptive mirrors in Europe were developed here in Steinfurt and in France, and rigorous tests have already proven their suitability for use in space. Now the team is pushing the boundaries of their work on these mirrors in the Photonics Laboratory to meet even higher standards.

As little dust in the air as possible: the transparent protective curtains are to keep dust particles away from the mirrors and other sensitive optics. Even the special, sticky doormat prevents dust from coming in.
As little dust in the air as possible: the transparent protective curtains are to keep dust particles away from the mirrors and other sensitive optics. Even the special, sticky doormat prevents dust from coming in.

Deformable mirrors are generally used to improve optical systems. Using them allows, for example, a blurry image in a telescope to be sharpened, or a laser beam to be calibrated for a specific application. “You wouldn’t believe where you can find lasers,” said Sinje euphorically. “Engineering and medical technology are traditional areas of application. However, we also find lasers in speed cameras as well as at the supermarket checkout, in printers and in DVD players. This is really cool!”

Sinje positions a mirror of the testing structure in the Photonics Laboratory.
Sinje positions a mirror of the testing structure in the Photonics Laboratory.

Sinje already earned her Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics at our university. “Studying here was super – I really had a good time in Steinfurt and I immediately found a great shared apartment.” To earn her Master’s degree, the native of Hamburg moved to Bochum. “The Master’s degree programme there was completely in English and very flexibly structured, I liked that very much.” Now, back in Steinfurt, it is helpful that she already knows the people there and how things work. “I always envisaged doing a PhD. After my Master’s degree, I contacted Professor Wittrock, who supervised my Bachelor’s thesis. After a personal conversation, I applied and he accepted!”

Front view: for this mirror, only the glass surface is missing – in other words, the part that is commonly called the mirror. (Photos: Theresa Gerks)
Front view: for this mirror, only the glass surface is missing – in other words, the part that is commonly called the mirror.

The timing for her PhD is quite good – this year, the building work for a new optics centre on the Steinfurt Campus will begin. For Sinje, this means state-of-the-art equipment, cleanroom-like conditions and more team members. As a result, she can conduct even better research. “What I like the most is the mix of topics: physics, mathematics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering …” enthused the 27-year-old. “The only drawback of my job is that I spend a lot of time in rooms without daylight. But I don’t think that is so bad, particularly in winter. Then it feels more like a warm cave.”

By Theresa Gerks

The Photonics Laboratory is currently seeking three PhD candidates in Physics in the areas of laser physics, laser crystals and adaptive optics. You can find the latest vacancies on the Photonics Laboratory website.


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