Portrait of Director Prof. Dr. rer. nat. habil. Ralf B. Wehrspohn

Graduate in physics | Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS in Halle and Professor of Microstructured Material Design at the Mar tin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

© Fraunhofer/Jürgen Lösel
Prof. Dr. Ralf B. Wehrspohn leads Fraunhofer IMWS since 2006.

Is impatience a virtue? Some say that impatient people are a thorn in the side of those around them, while others point to the benefits when the eager drive things forward and bring momentum to projects and structures. As a self-confessed impatient person, Ralf Wehrspohn can see both the positives and the negatives.

If you ask his employees and the research community, you get a resounding answer: Ralf Wehrspohn, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS, is exactly the person for the job. That is because he drives the institute forwards. Structures and portfolios are modified, and there is no waiting around for success. Since the physicist took the helm, the business of the institute has blossomed, and its staff has tripled.

On a personal level, too, Ralf has reaped the rewards of his unstinting effort. Highlights include a doctorate at the renowned École Polytechnique in France, the development of the first flat screens at Philips in England, postdoctoral qualification at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, a professorship at the University of Paderborn, selection as one of “the 101 most innovative minds in Germany” by the Financial Times Germany, and the German Research Foundation’s Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize – and these achievements have undoubtedly supplied the ambitious physicist with additional motivation. Then came his appointment as Director of a Fraunhofer Institute – the youngest institute director. Ralf recalls how his predecessor Prof. Katzer told him at the time that the job was “the best you could get without being the Pope. Then I told him that since I was a protestant, it would be the best job bar none. And so it has proven.”

Ralf’s work focuses on materials research – a topic that he believes doesn’t get the attention it deserves either in research or in the public imagination. He has resolved to change this situation, since 70 percent of all innovations in Germany have to do with materials. As a result, extra research here is of great benefit to society and the economy. Since being appointed vice chairman of the Fraunhofer Group for Materials and Components – MATERIALS, and spokesman for the Materials Data Space initiative, he has found even more of a reception for his ideas in this regard.

The materials researcher is convinced of the need to engage the public, and his communication efforts are voluntary as well as professional. He was involved, for instance, in science2public, an initiative that aimed to establish short films as a way to communicate research, and helped set up several related film festivals. Currently, he is working on allying art and science within the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, for instance through the “Art and science in dialog” event, which took place in the Fraunhofer Forum in June 2016. Thus, Ralf’s energy and enthusiasm bears fruit far beyond his own institute – and it seems that the opening question is answered, at least for him.