TUM Emeritus of Excellence Manfred Kleber

“If you don’t continue learning, you have already lost”

TUM Alumnus Manfred Kleber is a physicist through and through. Here, receiving an award was never what drove him. It was much more important to him to be able to work in close proximity to his scientific role models, whom he wanted to learn from.

Chemistry and Physics were Manfred Kleber’s favorite subjects at grammar school. His interest in these subjects was generally spurred on by the successful launch of the Sputnik satellite into Earth’s orbit. In his free time he built small rockets himself and observed the night sky with his own Busch telescope.

Manfred Kleber initially wanted to study Chemistry after finishing school. But then he met a Physics student, the future Heidelberg professor Heinz Horner, who, smoking a pipe, got him interested in Physics as a degree programme. And finally, his Physics teacher advised him to study at TUM and to benefit from the application-oriented training there. Manfred Kleber enrolled here in 1961, which was a decision that influenced him decisively not just scientifically but also personally.

In search of role models

As a native of Munich, he quickly came to appreciate his hometown as a city of science. In Garching the first West German research reactor was in operation and especially in the 1950s and 1960s many top-class scientists were called to TUM. In the intellectual environment of experts in the field, such as Professor Heinz Maier-Leibnitz, who took over the Chair of Technical Physics in 1952, and Nobel Laureate Professor Rudolf Mößbauer, who had been Professor of Experimental Physics since 1964, he received constant encouragement: “These were the scientific role models that you look for as a young physicist”, says Manfred Kleber.

Manfred Kleber’s time as an intern at the Max Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics with Professor Werner Heisenberg as director also left a special impression on him. He remembers his difficult but enthusiastically received lecture on quantum field theory, and even more so the scientists that Heisenberg invited there, such as Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker and Richard Feynman. “I love being surrounded by smart people, whom you can learn from”, Manfred Kleber still says today. “Because if you don’t continue learning, you have already lost.”

I love being surrounded by smart people, whom you can learn from.

At TUM Manfred Kleber did research on topics of Theoretical Nuclear Physics. “I wanted to know what the nucleons do in the atomic nucleus”, he says about his research focus, which drove him to write his diploma thesis and later his doctorate. He received his doctorate from TUM in 1969 and in 1972 continued his research as a postdoc at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California. There was an international community of scientists and he had the opportunity to familiarise himself with the American research landscape and culture. Manfred Kleber gradually refocused his research on questions of Atomic Physics. “Accordingly, the road to Quantum Optics was not far off anymore”, said Manfred Kleber, talking about his long-standing field of research, which would occupy him for nearly thirty years at the Garching Institute for Theoretical Physics at TUM.

He received the Willis E Lamb Award for Laser Science and Quantum Optics – together with the well-known Nobel Prize winner Roy Jay Glauber – in 2006 for his scientific contributions to tunnel phenomena in Microphysics. “But receiving awards was never what drove me in my work”, Manfred Kleber says. “For me it was always solely about following my fascination with the Natural Sciences.”

Guided tours through his alma mater

Manfred Kleber has had emeritus status since 2007, however he is anything but retired. As an Emeritus of Excellence, he continues to pass on his wide-ranging knowledge in a number of activities at TUM. For almost twenty years, he has been a member of the jury for selecting the best Bavarian seminar papers, supporting students, who are studying to be teachers, with his revision course in Theoretical Physics in their preparation for the written state examination, and introducing interested students to physics topics at the annual Whitsun Academy in the Schülerforschungszentrum Berchtesgadener Land, a joint institution of TUM and Berchtesgadener Land. Last but not least, Manfred Kleber occasionally works as a student advisor and gives teachers and students guided tours through his Alma Mater. He advises all his young protégés to always surround themselves with clever minds. “The right conduct enables mutual understanding and encouragement, which is so important”, says Manfred Kleber.