Wilhelm Ulrich: The 2023 SPIE Rudolf and Hilda Kingslake Award in Optical Design

The SPIE Rudolf and Hilda Kingslake Award in Optical Design is presented in recognition of significant achievement in the field of optical design, including the theoretical or experimental aspects of optical engineering
11 January 2023
Wilhelm Ulrich speaking into a microphone.

Wilhelm Ulrich, the recently retired head of optics research and design at Zeiss Optics, is considered an extraordinary optical engineer by those who know him and have worked with him. After joining Zeiss as an optical designer in 1980, Ulrich developed new design concepts for zoom lenses for photography, two of which are 4.5/70-160 and 3.2-4.0/50-150 for 6x6 medium-format cameras. Starting in 1983, Ulrich focused on optical system designs for microscopy and medical instrumentation. Beside the challenge to design and optimize microscope objectives with very large numerical apertures, he designed complete optical systems, such as laser-scanning microscopes and retina cameras. His design approach was to always deeply analyze and optimize aberration contributions of each element within a lens, leading to tolerance-robust optical systems. Ulrich also worked on notable optical systems for infrared optics, industrial metrology, interferometry, and high-power laser optics. In 1997, Ulrich became head of optical design for leading-edge microlithography systems at Zeiss. 

Ulrich served as symposium chair for SPIE Optical Systems Design in 2015 and 2018. An SPIE author, Ulrich has published several papers in SPIE proceedings and SPIE’s Journal of Micro/Nanolithography, MEMS, and MOEMS (now known as Journal of Micro/Nanopatterning, Materials, and Metrology). His multiple patents cover photography, medical imaging, microscopy, infrared optics, optical metrology, laser optics, and photolithography.

“He and I made a perfect team for achieving the goals of Zeiss, and the result was the biggest technical and business success in the history of Zeiss,” says independent optical design consultant Dave Shafer of the close working relationship he and Ulrich shared while collaborating on projects. “Later I worked with Willi on developing new reflective designs for EUV lithography and then, later still, worked with him when he had moved to corporate research at Zeiss. That involved a wide variety of designs for medical optics and other fields. Through the years Willi has shown himself to be an expert in all areas of optical technology important to Zeiss as well as being a great supervisor and colleague for me in the field of optical design. Now that I have recently retired after 56 years in optical design, this collaboration with Willi on that high NA immersion design for lithography stands out for me as a peak experience.”

Meet the other 2023 SPIE Society Award recipients.

Read more about Wilhelm Ulrich and the SPIE Rudolf and Hilda Kingslake Award in Optical Design.


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