Techkriti’15 Interview Series #1: Harald Rose

Professor Harald Rose is a pioneer in the field of electron microscopy. He won the Wolf Prize for Physics in 2011, with Maximillian Haider and Knut Urban, for developing aberration-corrected electron microscopes. Professor Rose has had extensive research experience in The Enrico Fermi Institute, Cornell University, the New York Stated Department of Health, etc, and currently holds a Senior Professorship in the University of Ulm. Following is his conversation with Vox Populi, where he recounts the triumphs and obstacles of his research experience and gives us an insight into his multi-faceted personality.


Vox: What inspired you to take up science as a career?
Prof. Rose: I wanted to understand the laws of nature. After the war, there was no money,  and and Science was not a popular career choice. Initially took up engineering at the University of Darmstadt. I realised,  however, that it was not for me. I wished to go into the depth of concepts and understand the laws. I was gifted in Mathematics, and so shifted to studying Mathematics and Physics simultaneously and obtained Bachelor’s degrees in the same.

Vox: What events lead you to pick electron microscopy as a research subject and what obstacles did you face?
Prof. Rose: While studying theoretical Physics, I was introduced to theoretical optics. It was the end of the 30s and the light microscope had reached its limit, since it could not be used to see viruses. Around that time, the first electron microscope was being built. It brought about a revolution in medicine as it lead to the discovery of AIDS virus etc. My Master’s thesis was on electron scattering to trace image contours. For my PhD thesis I addressed the problems in the resolution of electron lenses. For example, consider a champagne bottle. The lens formed when it is sliced across its widest part performed better than an electron lens. I discovered that correction of the resolution would require working with mechanical and electromagnetic instabilities, not aberrations.  I concluded that a compact lens with fewer elements would solve the issue at hand. However, at that point, the prevailing scientific opinion among American scientists was that this line of research would not be fruitful. This influenced world opinion and obtaining funding for this line of research became very tough. The Volkswagen Foundation, set up to fund scientific research, headed by Steinhart, who was a mentor to me, saw the potential in my proposal and agreed to fund it. Interestingly, it was one vote among nine, that is, a 5:4 ratio, that swung the vote in our favour. If it wasn’t for that, none of this would be happening; we were very lucky.

Vox: How was your experience at Techkriti and India?
Prof. Rose: Initially, I was a little worried about visiting India. I was told multiple times to be careful with regards to food and safety, give  my health.  However, I have found the campus to be perfectly agreeable and find it on par with the campuses of American universities. I have also developed a liking for Indian food.

Vox:Would you like to say something to the physics students of the institute?
Prof. Rose: I would only like to say that the current generation of students must possess endurance, devotion and new ideas, because these are essential to scientific research and advancement.

Vox: The Internet tells us a lot about your academic achievements, we would like to know, if it is okay with you, who the real Harald Rose is.
Prof. Rose: I still play tennis thrice a week. Till five years ago, I also used to hike and ski, however, now heights are not conducive to my health. I also enjoy classical music.


Interviewed by Vaidehi Menon