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KNMF Profile


  • 2010-12-02: Leibniz Prize goes to KNMF user Franz Pfeiffer, Technische Universität München
  • 2010-11-26: Röntgen Prize for X-ray research goes to KNMF user Christian David, Paul Scherrer Institut and KNMF user Franz Pfeiffer, Technische Universität München

Leibniz Prize goes to KNMF user Franz Pfeiffer, Technische Universität München

Physicist Franz Pfeiffer is one of the ten winners of the 2011 Leibniz Prize, the German Research Foundation (DFG) has announced. The 38-year-old physicist, holds the Chair for Biomedical Physics at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM). The price honors his fundamental and applied research in phase-contrast X-ray imaging, which promises significant progress toward early detection of tumors. The Leibniz Prize is Germany's most renowned scientific award and brings each recipient 2.5 million euros in prize money.

The DFG cited Pfeiffer's research in biomedical imaging, and in particular his pioneering work in phase-contrast X-ray imaging. His systematic approach has laid the foundation for applications of this technique in medicine and industry, where it is expected to deliver improved image contrast with lower doses of radiation. His research is recognized as having immense potential, from fundamental biophysical investigations to applications in medical imaging and diagnosis; it could bring about a marked shift in what is possible for mammography and computed tomography.

Before Pfeiffer's trail-blazing work, such phase-contrast X-ray imaging was only possible using the synchrotron X-ray sources available at large-scale research facilities. He developed a special methodology that made it possible to use normal X-ray sources for this purpose. He then showed that the newly developed approach could be combined with the methods of computed tomography to achieve previously unattainable levels of clarity and contrast in three-dimensional views into biomedical samples.

Particularly in the early detection of tumors, the analysis of phase-contrast information promises a marked improvement in diagnostic success, since the technique offers better contrast in soft tissue. To this end, the Center for Advanced Laser Applications (CALA) - a collaborative project of TUM and LMU -- has taken shape on the TUM campus Garching near Munich, with significant participation by physicist Pfeiffer and TUM Professor Michael Molls, a medical doctor. Molls is director of the Clinic for Radiation Therapy and Radiological Oncology at the university hospital Klinikum rechts der Isar.

TUM President Wolfgang A. Herrmann congratulated the new prize-winner: "You are not only one of our top scientists, but as a member of our Senate you also serve the overall development of the university. With your innovative contributions in X-ray physics, you are setting the direction for the CALA project and the medicine of tomorrow."

Professor Pfeiffer is the eighth scientist of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen to be honored with the Leibniz Prize. A further Leibniz Prize this year went to Professor Anja Feldmann, formerly of the Institute for Informatics at the TU Muenchen, now at the TU Berlin. Another laureate is Professor Dr. Bernhard Keimer of the Max-Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart. The physicist was honored for his research in neutron scattering and operates two scientific instruments at the neutron source of the TUM in Garching, which delivered important results for his research.

Of the ten new Leibniz Prize-winners - four women and six men - four work in the biological sciences, three in physical sciences, two in engineering, and one in the humanities and social sciences. The prizes will be awarded in Berlin on March 16, 2011.

TUM Press Releases

December 2, 2010

Röntgen Prize for X-ray research goes to KNMF user Christian David, Paul Scherrer Institut and KNMF user Franz Pfeiffer, Technische Universität München

In a ceremony held at the University of Giessen (Germany) on 26th November 2010, Christian David, scientist at the Laboratory for Micro and Nanotechnology of the Paul Scherrer Institute, received the Röntgenpreis for research in radiation science. David pioneered a method to enhance the quality of X-ray images. He developed an X-ray interferometer that allows one to visualize the phase shift and the scattering power of an object in addition to the conventional absorption based radiographs. The interferometer is based on a set of diffraction gratings with micrometer-sized slits developed and manufactured in David’s group at the Laboratory for Micro and Nanotechnology. Christian David received the award jointly with Franz Pfeiffer from Technische Universität München who worked closely together with him.

Normal X-ray images are based on absorption contrast – they show the shadow of the inner structure of the object investigated. Thus, materials with different absorption coefficients – such as bones and soft tissue in a medical image – can be easily distinguished in an X-ray. Materials with similar values of the absorption coefficient, however, look almost the same. In medical applications this may be problematic e.g. when a tumour has to be distinguished from the surrounding healthy tissue.

Award for high quality X-ray images
Several methods for enhancing the quality of microscopic images in light microscopy have been used for decades – among them phase contrast microscopy, employing the differences in phase shifts accumulated by the beam at different points of the sample and dark field microscopy based on the observation of the scattered part of the beam – instead of the transmitted one. This year’s 2010 Röntgenpreis of the University of Giessen is awarded to Christian David from the PSI and Franz Pfeiffer from the Technische Universität München for applying these methods to X-ray imaging techniques by using a grating interferometry technique.

Already in 2001, Christian David started to perform experiments on synchrotron beam lines to record the phase shift in X-ray images using two microfabricated diffraction gratings. Some years later, he discovered together with Franz Pfeiffer that the method can also be used on standard X-ray tubes when a third diffraction grating is introduced. This key development distinguishes the method from other X-ray phase contrast imaging methods, as it allows for widespread applications outside the large scale research facilities. In addition, the scientists showed that the setup is also capable of providing a dark field image of the sample giving information on the local scattering power of a sample. The discoveries of the laureates are expected to have significant impact in medical imaging, but also in non-destructive testing of industrial products or even in luggage security checks.

The laureates
Christian David, born in 1965, is Head of the Group X-ray Optics and Applications at the Laboratory for Micro- and Nanotechnology of the Paul Scherrer Institute. David studied Physics at the University of Göttingen. After a postdoctoral stay at the University of Heidelberg, he started working at PSI in 1996. He was awarded the Röntgenpreis together with his colleague Franz Pfeiffer, born in 1972, former scientist at PSI and now Professor of Physics at the Technische Universität München.

PSI Press Releases

November 26, 2010