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30 under 30: Exploring Ultrafast Phenomena with Lasers

Meet Stefan Pabst, 26, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year's Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
German physicist Stefan Pabst

Courtesy Stefan Pabst

The annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting brings a wealth of scientific minds to the shores of Germany’s Lake Constance. Every summer at Lindau, dozens of Nobel Prize winners exchange ideas with hundreds of young researchers from around the world. Whereas the Nobelists are the marquee names, the younger contingent is an accomplished group in its own right. In advance of this year’s meeting, which focuses on physics, we are profiling several promising attendees under the age of 30. The profile below is the 16th in a series of 30.

Name: Stefan Pabst
Age: 26
Born: Saalfeld/Saale, Germany
Nationality: German

Current position: Ph.D. student, University of Hamburg, Germany
Education: Diplom from University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany

What is your field of research?
I'm working in the area of atomic, molecular and optical physics (AMO). Specifically, my work focuses on ultrafast phenomena in atomic and molecular systems triggered by laser pulses on the atto-, femto- and picosecond time scale.

What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
The most fascinating aspect about physics for me is the strong connection between the mathematical world of equations that are governed solely by the law of mathematics and the real world we live in. Every single day we challenge, verify, and extend these abstract concepts that help us to describe, to understand, and to predict nature's behavior.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself as a permanent research scientist or professor in AMO physics or quantum chemistry. My most favorite goal is: to be able to describe molecular dynamics (of nuclear and electronic character) fully quantum mechanically and to generate molecular movies of chemical reactions.

Who are your scientific heroes?
For me there exist several scientific heroes. The ones I admire the most are Ludwig Boltzmann, Emmy Nöther, and Lev Landau.

I admire Boltzmann for his great insight into statistical physics that few scientists shared at the time. Emmy Nöther is the first woman who got a habilitation in Germany. Furthermore, she made outstanding contributions in maths, which had enormous impact in physics. Landau is for me the last all-rounder in physics. He was an expert in all areas of physics and made major contributions ranging from solid state physics via plasma physics to quantum electrodynamics and particle physics. His textbooks build an outstanding collection of scientific knowledge in all fields of modern physics.

What is your dream study or experiment? If you had unlimited resources, what kind of research would you conduct?
I guess the dream of any theorist is to find the equation of everything, unifying all forces in one equation. However, this is not a goal that can be reached by financial means.

What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
To balance my life I regularly go running and play ultimate Frisbee. I also play piano when I have the access. At my research institute (DESY) I'm actively involved in a Ph.D. interest group, which organizes events for Ph.D. students and represents their interests at higher managing levels of DESY.

What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
My primary motivation for attending this meeting is to gain the broader perspective of the Nobel laureates concerning the progress and vision of active areas of physics, as well as to learn more about the research of top young scientists from around the world. I also hope to share my own work in the young and growing areas of strong-field and attosecond physics. Within this week, I want to use the chance to talk to Nobel laureates and to get scientific and personal advice on my studies and academic future. I hope to meet new people with common scientific interests and to build up new friendships and potential collaborations.

Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
I hope I can have a discussion with Walter Kohn, the founder of density-functional theory. It is one of the most successful many-body theories. Since my focus is also on many-body theory in the time domain I would like to ask him about his opinion in my current research area and its further potentials.

I would like to meet Dan Shechtman, the Nobelist of last year in chemistry. His story about defending his discovery of quasicrystals against the common understanding of the scientific community at the time is very encouraging and inspiring. Every scientist dreams to make such a discovery and to prove everyone wrong. He reminds me of Boltzman in the 19th century.

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15. Merideth Frey
30 Under 30:
Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
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17. Ulrika Forsberg


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