10 November 1999

Heidelberg Physicist Prof. Dr. Josef Bille Nominated for the German Federal President's Prize for Technology and Innovation 1999

Rector Prof. Dr. Juergen Siebke "very gratified" – Siebke: "The nomination is a major success for the University of Heidelberg and is impressive proof of the way in which the staying-power of those engaged in basic research at the University can reap excellent rewards and form the basis for innovations" – Prof. Bille's research puts perfect vision within everyone's reach

Prof. Dr. Josef Bille

Heidelberg physicist Prof. Dr. Josef Bille has been nominated for the Federal President's 1999 Prize for Technology and Innovation, the "Deutsche Zukunftspreis". The prize will be awarded by Federal President Johannes Rau on 7 December in Berlin. Rector Prof. Dr. Juergen Siebke indicated that he was "very gratified" and sees the nomination as a major success for the University of Heidelberg and an impressive proof "of the way in which the staying-power of those engaged in basic research at the University can reap excellent rewards and form the basis for innovations." Prof. Bille's research puts perfect vision within everyone's reach.

As Rector Siebke emphasizes, Bille first applied his basic method in astrophysics (1978 and after), collaborating with the Koenigstuhl Observatory for the purpose. "At the same time he prepared the ground for a way of overcoming restrictions to human vision caused by aberrations in the eye itself." Siebke went on to say that in 1999, thanks mainly to research done here in Heidelberg, we now have diagnostic and therapeutic methods available for the realisation of perfect vision. "The breakthrough was 20 years in coming. Achievement in research takes tenacity and staying-power." (Siebke)

Siebke: Defying political fashion trends

The outcome of this innovative research work could not be planned in advance "and has been realised at the University by the work of many generations of graduates and postgraduates." But the staying-power of the people engaged in basic research won out in the end. "In the long term getting results means defying political fashion trends," said the Rector.

Federal President Johannes Rau: "The results of development and research are a crucial factor in the future of this country"

The Deutscher Zukunftspreis, initiated with great success and broad public resonance by the then Federal President Roman Herzog in 1997, aims at creating heightened public awareness of the special significance of outstanding achievement in science and technology for Germany's future development. In the words of the present Federal President Johannes Rau: "The results of development and research are a crucial factor in the future of this country. They are the motor of social, economic and ecological renewal and hence a decisive element for the individual prospects of the people living here."

An illustrious jury assembled from the world of science and business elects the laureate from a group of candidates nominated by leading scientific and economic institutions. The prize money that comes with the award is DM 500,000. The jury has already selected four candidates or teams for the "final round" and their achievements will be presented to the general public. On 7 December 1999 the jury will convene once again to decide on the ultimate winner. The person or team in question will receive the prize from President Johannes Rau in the course of a gala event organised by the state-run ZDF television corporation at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin.

Prof. Dr. Josef Bille: perfect vision for everyone

Over 150 years ago the important German physicist and physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz had this to say about the human eye: "If anyone offered me an optical device with such serious flaws I would reject it in no uncertain terms." At the time Helmholtz was director of the Institute of Physiology at Heidelberg University.

On the foundation of basic research studies at Heidelberg University's Insitute of Applied Physics new adaptive optical measuring techniques have been developed over the last 20 years enabling an extremely precise automatised survey of the refraction power of the human eye. This means that in comparison to present-day standards a much higher order of vision flaws can be identified and possibly corrected. Progress in the microtechnology and production of soft contact lenses make it possible to manufacture new customised vision aids ("super contact lenses") exploiting individual visual potential to the utmost.

Innovative refractive laser surgery on the basis of ultra-short pulsed lasers themselves demonstrated for the first time at Heidelberg Univrsity in the course of the last few years mean that a lasting correction of the imaging flaws of the human eye deplored by Hermann von Helmholtz is now within reach for the first time ever. For the purposes of immediate marketing of the basic research work involved the 20/10 Perfect Vision GmbH company was established in Heidelberg early this year.

Over the last five years there has also been collaboration between the University of Heidelberg, the German Cancer Research Centre (Heidelberg), the Neuro-Oncology Department and Stereotactics Unit of Cologne University Hospital and the newly-established MRC Systems medical technology company (Heidelberg) to develop a completely new operation technique for the resection of hitherto inoperable brain tumours using stereotactic laser neurosurgery. It too uses ultra-short pulsed lasers and adaptive optical microtechniques. At the moment work is in progress to develop a finer laser probe enabling functional stereotactic neurosurgery to be applied to other medical indications. The main application here is the treatment of Parkinson's disease, but treatment for hydrocephalus and pain conditions should also be feasible. What all these medical indications have in common is the necessity of destroying or removing only a very small target volume. The volume in each case is however normally located in the vicinity of highly sensitive areas of the brain.

To achieve the spatial resolution and focussing of the laser beam necessary for safe use of the technique, the distortions at the wavefront of the laser beam as it passes through the fluid have to be corrected. The minimal invasive operation technique developed in cooperation with the MRC Systems medical technology company (Heidelberg) has applications outside the field of neurosurgery as well. It can be used as an intelligent micro laser scalpel in many areas of surgery. An initial spin-off in the field of orthopaedics is in preparation: a spinal laser.

The necessary micro-optic and micro-electronic elements are developed and produced in collaboration with the participating high-techology enterprises and the IMS Institute of Microelectronic Systems of Germany's Frauenhofer Society. In the context of this pioneering new development for measurement and correction of the refraction power of the human eye ("Super Vision") several applications for patents have already been submitted to the American Patent Office (in mid May 1999).

Please address any inquiries to:
Prof. Dr. Josef Bille
University of Heidelberg
Institute of Applied Physics
Albert-Ueberle-Strasse 3-5
D-69120 Heidelberg
phone: 06221/549251 fax: 549262

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 5432317

Markus Franke
Deutscher Zukunftspreis
D-11010 Berlin
phone: 030/20002126, fax: 20001912
Internet: www.bundespraesident.de

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