The Shining Light

Claudia Sixl arrived at Laser World of Photonics as a non-specialist. She has acquired the relevant expertise since then—and today she works with science and industry in the international Laser World of Photonics network to highlight developments in an industry of the future

By Katarina Baric (Messe München Magazine 01/2019)

Exhibition Group Director Claudia Sixl on the importance of photonic—and how it will change our everyday lives.

Before Claudia Sixl gets to the point, she reaches into her purse—and produces a red VW Beetle. Using the model car, the 50-year-old explains how important photonics is, alone in mobility: Vehicle bodies are cut and welded using lasers. Sensors measure the distance to surrounding objects, thus making autonomously driven vehicles possible in the future. Displays and display elements are made up of LEDs; the headlights increasingly shine using laser light. And whoever finds an unwelcome black-and-white photo in the mail has presumably been caught by a laser radar device.

Claudia Sixl knows that you can best describe the unending world of photonics using practical examples. Let’s look at her own experience. The Exhibition Group Director of the Laser World of Photonics network started her career in a totally different field. Her first job was in public relations, prior to which she studied communications science, sociology, and economics. “Of course, I have not become a physicist over the years,” Sixl says today. Nevertheless, she has internalized the significance of photonics.

There are so many things that we could not do today without this technology Claudia Sixl, Exhibition Group Director Messe München

Stated simply, photonics utilizes the unique properties of light. For example, its speed or ability to be focused. “There are so many things that we could not do today without this technology—above all in medicine,” says Sixl. And, of course, progress is not meant to stop there. “It is exciting to see the impassioned researchers who, together with industry, take the development further.” And, being able to speak with the experts, Claudia Sixl was able to do her homework: a lot of reading, observing, and speaking with customers and partners.

Claudia Sixl, © Dirk Bruniecki

Claudia Sixl began her career in the media industry. Today as Exhibition Group Director she is responsible for, among other things Laser World of Photonics.

Photo: Dirk Bruniecki

Claudia Sixl learned about trade fairs at IMAG in Munich, a subsidiary of Messe München. In 2001, she took over Laser World of Photonics, the world-leading trade fair for components, systems, and applications in photonics. Over the years, the foreign trade fairs in China and India were added to Sixl’s portfolio. Later came the analytica network—linked to the world’s most important trade fair for laboratory technology, analysis, and biotechnology, and its regionally leading trade fairs in Asia and South Africa.

The focus of this year’s international Laser World of Photonoics in Munich includes, among other things lasers for manufacturing as well as imaging and sensors. These systems are intended to pave the way for smarter cities, for autonomous vehicles, and Industry 4.0. Claudia Sixl and her project team expect around 1,300 exhibitors from 42 countries. The 32,000 specialist visitors will travel from 75 countries. “You can see from this, and the success of our trade fairs, that photonics is an extremely international industry,” says Sixl. “There is global cooperation here not only in research but also in industry.”

Laser World of Photonics: Exciting topics for the future

At its premiere in 1973, the fair was of course somewhat smaller, although similarly international. And even back then, photonics was touted as an industry of the future. “At that time, technologies on display were still looking for an application,” says Claudia Sixl and laughs. Today, the public eagerly awaits the new products and developments in the industry. At the top of the wish list, for example, is the quantum computer. One day, it will solve complex tasks in the chemical industry or drive the development of artificial intelligence. “This is a huge, exciting topic for the future, which we also address at the fair.”

Theory and practice are merging—not only in the fair but also in its associated congress. Researchers come together, above all, at the World of Photonics Congress. The notable speakers always include Nobel Prize winners who, through help of laser and photonics technologies, have achieved groundbreaking progress in science. Claudia Sixl is proud of this: “It makes me really happy that our team always manages to bring these renowned researchers to the congress in Munich.”

Photonics: A trending topic for young people

Anyone so focused on the future naturally keeps an eye on tomorrow’s generation today. “Start-ups and youth development are very important, they bring something new to the table” says Sixl. To help young people acquire a taste for innovation Laser World of Photonics confers a Start-up Award and stages a makeathon. The latter is a word created from “make” and “marathon.”

In these, students have 24 hours to develop a prototype in the photonics area and present it to a jury. Claudia Sixl recognized long ago that interest in technology has generally grown: “Photonics, which used to be a topic only for physicists, is more exciting than ever before, especially to young people.” It is definitively not just for physicists today—as Claudia Sixl knows from her own experience.