The Laser Researcher: Karsten König can look deep inside the human skin

03. May 2018

The Laser Researcher

Karsten König can look deep inside the human skin

Karsten König. Foto: privat

Karsten König on the Shisha Pangma in Tibet. Photo: private

Moving from Saarbrücken to Adlershof is a great leap for a small company. In Karsten König’s case, the reason is strikingly simple: “I just wanted to go home,” he says about his reasons. König’s company Jenlab GmbH will soon move into its new headquarters at the Centre for Photovoltaics and Renewable Energies on the 1st June 2018. Only two weeks later, the physics professor, who teaches at the University of the Saarland, will host an international workshop at the Max-Born-Institute, which is dedicated to his greatest passion: laser technology in biomedicine and materials research.

König grew up in Adlershof during the 1960s. He went to school at the 11. Polytechnische Oberschule on Radickestraße and to the Lutheran after-school care centre on the town square afterwards. The famous writer Anna Seghers was one of the regulars at the chemist’s where his mother worked the counter. His enthusiasm for mountaineering and his urge to explore drove him beyond Adlershof. For months he travelled – illegally at the time – through the Soviet Union, got as far as the Far East peninsula Kamchatka, conquered the giant mountains of Middle Asia, and even tried to cross the polar sea to the notorious Solovetsky Islands, the “Gulag Archipelago”, on skis.

König had already been interested in ways of applying light in cancer diagnostics and therapy as a graduate student during the 1980s at the University of Jena. He later developed a procedure to examine the deeper layers of the skin using laser beams. The highly focused, near-infrared light scans tissue at a frequency of 80 million pulses per second, creating optical cross-sections: “We can see every cell and thanks to high resolution we may also look inside of cells,” says König.

This procedure is called “multiphoton tomography”. It facilitates the detection skin cancer at a very early stage, but it can also be used by the cosmetic industry to test the effects of anti-aging products. König’s company is the only supplier worldwide.

König’s East German high school diploma stated that his knowledge was greater than his allegiance to the state. He was lucky to get into university at all, first in Rostock and later in Jena. He got into trouble there for protesting election fraud during the May 1989 local elections. In August, he set out to escape from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to reach the Himalayas and make an old wish come true: seeing earth’s highest peaks that rose beyond the Soviet borders and had been completely out of reach for a long time.

This endeavour failed at first, but when the Berlin Wall came down there was little time for regret. In spring 1990, König and a friend from Leipzig finally made it to the summit of Shisha Pangma, an 8,000-metre-high mountain in Tibet. Just six months before German reunification, the two men won a title that nobody could ever take away from them – they were the first and the last GDR mountaineers to conquer an Eight-thousander.

By Winfried Dolderer for Adlershof Journal


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