Technology pioneer and alumni donor Reimar Lenz

“Look for something that is application-oriented, something that is needed”

From scientist to entrepreneur and vice-versa: Prof. Reimar Lenz has already had a distinct tinkerer gene in him since his youth. As a true pioneer of digital photography, the TUM Alumnus develops microscopy cameras that are used all over the world.

He always wants to invent, discover and improve something, whether volleyball, traveling or playing Go. Since graduating from TUM in 1980, the Munich engineer has tried and patented a great many things – and has been very successful in doing so. The list of his prizes and awards is long. Already as a young company founder and shortly after his habilitation he received the Siegfried Werth Research Prize in 1990. In the same year, he received the DAGM award for his groundbreaking work on high-resolution color cameras.

But 2010 in particular is a year that the technology pioneer will never forget – with the very best memories of the “Nobel Prize for Engineers, which unfortunately does not exist”, as the modest information technician and company owner puts it in his own words.

We will have to learn faster and faster in the future.

His beloved Munich Alma Mater, “to which I owe so much and whose professors like Hans Marko gave me so much freedom as an assistant,” awarded him the renowned Heinz Meier-Leibnitz Medal. In the same year, his name was even heard at the “Technology Oscar” ceremony in Los Angeles: “And the Oscar goes to… Reimar Lenz!”

Gold glittering “Oscar” night

In 2010, in front of his family and film professionals, he received one of the highly coveted “Scientific and Engineering Awards”, which each year go to outstanding film technicians, developers and scientists who have made a decisive contribution to the cinema industry. Lenz had made a significant contribution towards developing the ARRISCANNER, as well as its central component, the so-called ALEV sensor, which he named after his daughter. Of course, the many awards make him proud, but Reimar Lenz does not place that much value in all the attention he gets.

Instead, he prefers to work on the next generation of one of his numerous inventions with his brother Dr. Udo Lenz. Together with him, Reimar Lenz began developing and producing the first 20-megapixel cameras in a backyard in Schwabing in the 1980s. In principle, the division of work between them was determined pretty early on: “I am more of a practitioner,” explains Reimar Lenz, “while my brother is responsible for the theory and image processing algorithms as a mathematician and physicist”.

Prof. Dr. Reimar Lenz with one of his cameras

Prof. Dr. Reimar Lenz with one of his cameras (Photo: facesbyfrank).

The two scientists are a strong duo, something the well-coordinated brothers already proved while they were at school. Even as adolescents, they already constructed a multi-channel counter with a light barrier for laying the eggs of Drosophila flies when they were adolescents, which they were able to sell to the University of Tübingen immediately and for a profit.

A coordinated family undertaking

“Developing, producing and selling” has always been the basic entrepreneurial principle of the Lenz brothers. Without an expensive online presence or quirky advertising material, the simple fact is that Reimar Lenz can fall back on many years of quality and great entrepreneurial success, although he is well aware of the difficulties of the digital market. “We will have to learn faster and faster in the future. In the past, all we developed were special still cameras with CCD sensors, but now we have to work increasingly with CMOS sensors for Zeiss in Jena, for example”.

During a visit to the company headquarters in Ainmillerstraße, it is therefore hardly surprising to see Reimar Lenz holding a new camera prototype in his hands, albeit still in the blue camera body of the predecessor model. What advice would he like to give TUM students? “It is vital that you find something that is application-oriented, something that is needed,” explains Reimar Lenz. He always emphasized this in his lectures on digital photography and videometry. “So you don’t have to spend your entire life looking for customers,” he adds with a smile.