Ulrike Fuchs

asphericon GmbH, Germany

For outstanding and sustainable contributions to research linking the production of aspheres and metrology with questions of optical design and their transfer to free-form optics.

Growing up in Jena, Germany, the “Valley of Optics,” Ulrike Fuchs became interested in science from a young age. With two physicist parents, Ulrike was exposed to the spirit of physics early on. This, and her own fascination with math and the natural sciences, led to her decision to study physics. Ulrike’s curiosity kept her excited about the growing field. At the University of Jena, Ulrike was able to establish the platform for her current expert knowledge in the field of optics, including topics like micro-optics, semiconductor optics, laser physics, and classical optics. After joining asphericon in 2010 Ulrike focused early-on linking manufacturing of aspherics and metrology with questions in optical design. With her team she also works on concepts that allow better prediction of system performance during optical design and tolerancing processes. Today she serves as Vice President Strategy and Innovation and coordinates all R&D activities at asphericon as well as strategic product development.   

Her current position allows Ulrike to connect old interests with brand-new ideas. She comments, “I have the privilege here that if I have a good idea or something that I’m interested in, and I can arrange the time to make it, I’m [able] to work on it. I know I’m really fortunate to do that [and] it keeps me motivated and focused.” She is getting excited about working on solutions for specific applications or customer issues. It was an absolutely thrilling project to launch a new product line for the beam shaping market. Here she was able to draw on experience from her research career and at the same time work on perfecting the new products for the daily work of her customers in the lab. Together with her team, consisting of optical designers and project engineers, she can work collaboratively in an extremely trusting and open manner. Challenges are discussed and solved together. “This freedom of play” is very important to Ulrike and her team. “We have a lot of crazy projects and with this freedom we have a lot of room for unexpected and creative solutions.

Throughout the research process, Ulrike enjoys many elements of the work. The cooperation amongst her team is very important. She comments that “cooperation is the linchpin of good and successful scientific work.” Especially at the beginning stages of experimentation, she says that good communication “fertilizes and inspires” new ideas. When starting a project, Ulrike thrives during the brainstorming stage: “You are not under pressure to come up with a solution, but you play with that idea and then decide together what to look into first.” Later in the process, she loves when simulations and tests work the way she had planned.

As Ulrike transitioned from what she thought would be a career in academia to one in industry, she had to overcome self-doubt – wondering whether she was prepared to make the right decisions in such a different setting. However, she has been able to overcome this inner challenge: “Now I have great confidence, knowing at the moment that I am making a decision, it is the right one to make with the knowledge that I have. If it turns out that a piece of the puzzle is still missing or the solution does not yet meet my expectations, then we re-think and see what the next right decision will be.” She adds that this is not something you can learn in school - it comes from real-life experiences and encouragement from your peers and supervisors. She remembers the CEO of asphericon at the time, Sven Kiontke, who was a great mentor for her: “He taught me that of course I am qualified on the educational level…but I learned to trust my gut. If it feels right, it is right.” Today, her ability to trust and collaborate have led to her success. She exudes confidence, and clearly loves her work.

Photo Credit: Ulrike Fuchs

Profile written by Samantha Hornback