Welcome, Prof. Uwe Bergmann!

profile image of Uwe Bergmann
Uwe Bergmann

Uwe Bergmann, the Martin L. Perl Endowed Professor in Ultrafast X-Ray Science

Hometown: Menlo Park, California

Educational/professional background:

PhD in Physics, experimental research on the development and applications of novel x-ray methods using synchrotron and x-ray laser sources, senior management role in a large x-ray laser facility.

Previous position:

Distinguished Staff Scientist, Stanford PULSE Institute, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

How did you get into your field of research?

I first stepped into a synchrotron facility, the HASYLAB at DESY, when I arrived as a physics student at Universitӓt Hamburg. The sheer size and complexity of this large research facility was awe-inspiring. During my ‘Diplom’ thesis research in Hamburg, where I built a lab-based x-ray instrument to measure thin films, I discovered my passion for experimental x-ray science. I then got the opportunity to do my PhD research at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Lab. There I realized how many interesting research fields scientists pursue at a synchrotron, one instrument next to the other. I believe it was this fascination, that pulled me into my career.

What attracted you to UW-Madison?

For some time I have been thinking whether it would be possible one day to combine my research activities with teaching at a university. The ultrafast x-ray science chair in the Physics Department was a perfect opportunity and an excellent fit to the research I have been pursuing my entire career. Still, it wasn’t until my visit to Madison, experiencing the wonderful interaction with the students, faculty and staff, and feeling the energy on this beautiful campus, that I fell in love with the idea of joining UW-Madison.

What was your first visit to campus like?

I was amazed by the beautiful location between two lakes, the size of the campus, and its vibrant atmosphere. If felt like the University breathes its energy into the whole area. Despite having thick windows in my hotel room, I heard loud noises from activities outside until late into the morning hours. I loved it!

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?

My hope is that the students will be fascinated by the beauty of how powerful x-rays uncover the workings of nature at the atomic and molecular level, or reveal a hidden secret of an interesting object.

Is there a way your field of study can help the world endure and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the health, finances and lifestyle of so many?

Unfortunately, my research is not directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but x-ray methods that I also use are helping scientists to obtain a better molecular level understanding of the structure and function of coronaviruses.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea?

Absolutely! Wisconsin is one of the world’s leading universities and has a history of more than 170 years of higher education and research that has influenced people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom and positively affected society. I hope that my teaching and my x-ray research will follow this strong tradition by inspiring the next generation of individuals to help creating a thriving society and a sustainable planet.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter during video chats (and eventually parties)?

Essentially all the oxygen we breathe comes from plants and cyanobacteria splitting water using the energy from sunlight. They all use the same tiny molecular machine, yet we still do not know how it works exactly. We hope that powerful x-rays can help solving this more than 3-billion-year-old mystery, without which life as we know it would not be possible.

Hobbies/other interests:

Outdoor activities including running, biking, swimming, diving, kayaking and golf. I love nature, animals and music.