Physics:Direct laser interference patterning

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In materials science, direct laser interference patterning (DLIP) is a laser-based technology that uses the physical principle of interference of high-intensity coherent laser beams to produce functional periodic microstructures.[1][2] In order to obtain interference, the beam is divided by a beam splitter, special prisms,[3] or other elements. The beams are then folded together to form an interference pattern. Sufficiently high power of the laser beam can thus result in the removal of material at the interference maximums thanks to ablation phenomenon, leaving the material intact at the minimums. In this way, a repeatable pattern can be permanently fixed on the surface of a given material. DLIP can be applied to almost any material and can change the properties of surfaces in many technological areas with regard to electrical and optical properties,[4][5] tribology[6][7] (friction and wear), light absorption and wettability[8] (e.g., which can be related to hygienic properties).


In the 1990s, Frank Mücklich learned about Martin Stutzmann's method for local crystallization of amorphous layers from him at the Technical University of Munich.[9] The method he utilized was based on the interference principle using laser radiation. Mücklich, who had already gained intensive theoretical and experimental experience with interference phenomena during his doctorate, decided to use it by applying high laser intensity for the development of local and periodic variation of the microstructure due to metallurgical effects. With the help of funding he got from the Alfried Krupp sponsorship in 1997, he was able to realise this concept in the laboratories of his Chair for Functional Materials at Saarland University, by acquiring a nanosecond laser and the necessary optical equipment.

What was noticeable in the experiments, however, was that in addition to the local metallurgical effects observed, i.e. microstructural changes in the material (like grain size distribution, orientation), also the micro-topography of the surface could be controlled. Furthermore, the geometry of the periodic pattern depended on the number of interfering laser beams, their angle with respect to the materia’s surface and the beam polarization. In this way, the history of Direct Laser Interference Patterning started.[10]

Inspired by Nachtigall's bionics research, the joint idea initially arose of reproducing the surface structures that were typical in living natural systems and evolutionarily optimised for the respective "functionalities" in plants and animals within the framework of the interdisciplinary research topic of "Biologically Composed Materials". The work with his doctoral student at the time, Andrés Lasagni, was particularly inspiring and achieved rapid successes together: in 2006, Lasagni received his doctorate as the best doctoral student of the year for structuring by laser interference metallurgy in the micro/nano range ("Advanced design of periodical structures by laser interference metallurgy in the micro/nano scale on macroscopic areas"[11]). For their successful publications, the jury of the International Journal of Materials Research - IJMR awarded Frank Mücklich, Andrés Lasagni and Claus Daniel the Werner Koester Prize of the DGM.

In 2008, after his postdoctoral stay as a Humboldt Fellow in the USA, Lasagni returned to Germany with a Fraunhofer Attract Grant and established a research team on "Surface Functionalization" at the Fraunhofer IWS, in Dresden. There he developed many compact optics[12][13][14][15] which are crucial for the robust application of today's DLIP technology, while Mücklich and his team in Saarbrücken continued to open up new materials engineering application fields for surface functionalisation through DLIP and in 2009 opened the Material Engineering Center Saarland, where direct industry collaborations promoted the technology transfer.

In 2013, Andrés Lasagni received the DGM's Masing Memorial Award for his extraordinary achievements.

Later in 2016, Mücklich’s and Lasagni’s teams were awarded the Berthold Leibinger Innovation Prize for the development of direct laser interference patterning (DLIP) for their joint innovative laser technology platform and uniquely successful cooperation.

Together with Dominik Britz and Ralf Zastrau, Mücklich and Lasagni founded the company SurFunction GmbH to commercialise the technology on the market for the first time.

Advantages of the method

DLIP offers some outstanding characteristics compared to other methods, including:

  • It is possible to create microstructures directly on the material on a scale much larger and faster than in the case of direct laser writing (DLW). The structure created as a result of the interference pattern can have dimensions on the order of few centimetres (depending on the used laser source), which enables the fabrication of a large surface structures in a single step.
  • In addition, the dimensions of the microstructure can be on the order of few tens of nanometers, which is not achievable with direct laser writing. For instance, spatial periods of only 180 nm where achieved in DLC coatings using UV laser radiation.[16]

Types of interferometers

There are many ways to split a laser beam, which determines the principles of different interferometers like:

The process

Figuratively, the electromagnetic waves of a laser beam can overlap similar to water waves, forming intensity patterns. This principle is called interference. If a wave crest of the first propagating wave meets a wave crest of the overlapping, second wave, this results in the formation of a larger wave, called constructive interference. If a wave trough meets a wave crest, this results in the extinction of the wave, called destructive interference.

In this way, overlapping coherent laser beams are used to create intensity patterns that are projected onto a component surface. The material is melted or evaporated in areas of constructive interference, depending on the pulse length, while it remains almost unaffected in areas of destructive interference. The number and arrangement of the beams in relation to each other determines the type of pattern applied. This can be, for example, a line pattern, cross pattern, dot pattern or almost any periodic surface texture.

Higher complexities of surface patterns can be created with an increasing number of beams. The angle between the overlapping laser beams and the wavelength of the used laser determine the structure size (period) of the applied periodic intensity distribution.

Oberflaechenstruktur mit DLIP

In contrast to other laser-based processing methods, such as direct laser writing, the laser beam diameter has not to be focused. This means that a significantly larger area can be processed per laser pulse. At the same time, microscopic small structures, which are even smaller than the diffraction limit (which determines the smallest possible beam diameter at the focal position), can be created quickly and without contact.

Therefore, DLIP combined with a high-frequency laser, can achieve throughputs in the range of >1 m²/min with maximum precision.[20]

The DLIP process has a very high depth of focus compared to laser writing, as DLIP does not rely on precise focusing of the laser beam, but creates an "interference volume" within which the surface is equally structured with the corresponding interference pattern.

DLIP offers a effectively infinite variety of structuring possibilities through the use of nano-, pico- or femtosecond lasers, as well as by varying the number of used interfering laser beams, their geometrical configuration as well as the wavelength of the radiation used.

Prominent research projects

More than 500 publications (as of 2022) have been published on research involving DLIP technology.

Projects related to research in space are an important topic area to investigate the potential for the hygienic properties of surface texturing by DLIP. The impact of biofilms is greater in space than on Earth because, on the one hand, crew life and mission success depend on the nominal operation of mechanical systems, which can be interrupted by material damage associated with biofilm growth, and, on the other hand, the isolated, confined environment of spaceflight can increase disease transmission rates. In the case of the International Space Station (ISS), biofilms are a problem of the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), in particular the Water Processor Unit (WPA). The aim is to understand the behaviour of microorganisms and the formation of biofilms, since they have an impact on the health (of the astronauts) as well as the fact that biofilms lead to material damage, which should be minimised for reasons of sustainability and to improve the longevity of products and materials in industry and in many sectors also on Earth.

The following space projects in cooperation with NASA and ESA received special media attention:

  • Touching surfaces (Testing antimicrobial surfaces for space-flight and earth applications): In this experiment, novel surfaces with and without active antimicrobial properties are being tested for their antimicrobial efficacy under space conditions in combination with bacteria contact-control surface structuring by DLIP. The contact surfaces were touched by astronauts on board the ISS. The microbes on them will then be examined on Earth with regard to biofilm formation.[21][22][23]
  • Biofilms (Testing Laser Structured Antimicrobial Surfaces Under Space Conditions): The BIOFILMS project investigates biofilm formation on various antimicrobial surfaces under space conditions. These surfaces consist of different metals with and without active bactericidal properties, which were additionally surface-structured by ultra-short pulsed DLIP on the scale of single bacterial cells. In this way, the bacterial strains used in the experiment are offered improved or worsened contact conditions. The influence of these surface properties on bacterial biofilm formation is thereby investigated in the context of variable gravity by rotation in a centrifuge within the ISS for the Moon, Mars and Earth."[24][25]
  • Space Biofilms: In late 2019, the Space Biofilms experiment launched to the ISS to investigate the specifics of biofilms formed in space compared to their corresponding counterpart on Earth. In addition to the expression of antimicrobial resistance genes, novel materials, including those based on DLIP technology, were tested here as potential biofilm containment strategies for future critical ECLSS components.[26][27]
  • ConTACTS Concordia: The Concordia experiment ConTACTS is designed to analyse antimicrobial surfaces as a strategy to reduce the microbial load on contact surfaces and actively track microbial spread. The Concordia Station in Antarctica serves here as a model environment within the hibernation phase of several months in the Arctic winter to investigate the special conditions within spatially closed artificial habitats. In the ConTACTS Concordia project, sample carriers with antimicrobial functionalised surfaces will be placed in different areas of Concordia Station during the wintering period of several months. These locations are expected to vary in their environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity, and in the frequency of human presence. The touch arrays include antimicrobial copper-based metallic surfaces with and without additional topographic surface texturing with DLIP. The surfaces will be exposed to both direct daily contact and pure airflow exposure in different atmospherically varying areas of the station. The properties produced by DLIP are expected to remain intact despite the extreme environmental conditions. The project will help to understand microbial dispersal in enclosed habitats, including through frequently touched surfaces, and to test optimised containment strategies. (Start 2023)

Other prominent projects:

Photovoltaic project by Fraunhofer IWS and IAPP: In order to enhance the efficiency of thin film photovoltaic systems, flexible polymer materials were textured by DLIP in 2011, reaching an enhanced electrical performance of 21% compared to untreated foils. This improvement was possible due to the produced periodic structure, which increases the optical path in to the active material of the cells. Thus, DLIP was identified to have a great potential for the development of high-efficiency solar cells for organic as well as other thin-film solar technologies.[28]

Prizes related to DLIP

  • Masing Memorial Prize 2020 to Andreas Rosenkranz
  • Transfer Prize of the Steinbeis Foundation | Löhn Prize (2019) to Mücklich and the Material Engineering Center Saarland (MECS) together with TE Connectivity[29][30]
  • Materials Science and Technology Prize of the FEMS (2017) to Andrés Lasagni[31]
  • Berthold Leibinger Innovation Prize (2016) to the Direct Laser Interference Patterning project groups of Mücklich and Lasagni for the best laser innovation[32]
  • Masing Memorial Prize 2012 to Andrés Lasagni[33]
  • German High Tech Champions Award (2011) to Andrés Lasagni for research on increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic systems[34]
  • Werner Köster Prize (2006) to Frank Mücklich, Andrés Lasagni and Claus Daniel for the best publication of the year in the International Journal of Materials Research
  • Fraunhofer Attract Award to Andrés Lasagni for "Micro/nano" Fabrication of Surface Architectures using Direct Laser Interference Patterning


  1. Yu, Fayou; Li, Ping; Shen, Hao; Mathur, Sanjay; Lehr, Claus-Michael; Bakowsky, Udo; Mücklich, Frank (2005-05-01). "Laser interference lithography as a new and efficient technique for micropatterning of biopolymer surface" (in en). Biomaterials 26 (15): 2307–2312. doi:10.1016/j.biomaterials.2004.07.021. PMID 15585233. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Czyż, Krzysztof; Marczak, Jan; Major, Roman; Mzyk, Aldona; Rycyk, Antoni; Sarzyński, Antoni; Strzelec, Marek (August 2016). "Selected laser methods for surface structuring of biocompatible diamond-like carbon layers" (in en). Diamond and Related Materials 67: 26–40. doi:10.1016/j.diamond.2016.01.013. Bibcode2016DRM....67...26C. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Czyż, Krzysztof (2016-08-05). "The influence of surface topography elaborated by prism optics based laser interference modification on cell differentiation". Inżynieria Materiałowa 1 (4): 10–16. doi:10.15199/28.2016.4.2. 
  4. Teutoburg-Weiss, Sascha; Soldera, Marcos; Bouchard, Felix; Kreß, Joshua; Vaynzof, Yana; Lasagni, Andrés Fabián (2022-07-01). "Structural colors with embedded anti-counterfeit features fabricated by laser-based methods" (in en). Optics & Laser Technology 151: 108012. doi:10.1016/j.optlastec.2022.108012. ISSN 0030-3992. Bibcode2022OptLT.15108012T. 
  5. "Comparison of Structural Colors Achieved by Laser-Induced Periodic Surface Structures and Direct Laser Interference Patterning". JLMN-Journal of Laser Micro/Nanoengineering 15 (2). 2020. 
  6. Grützmacher, Philipp (2019). Controlling friction by multi-scale surface patterning inside and outside the contact zone (doctoralThesis). Universität Des Saarlandes, Universität Des Saarlandes. Saarländische Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek. doi:10.22028/D291-29724.
  7. Gachot, Carsten (2012). Laser interference metallurgy of metallic surfaces for tribological applications (doctoralThesis). Universität Des Saarlandes, Universität Des Saarlandes. doi:10.22028/D291-22840.
  8. Raillard, Brice (2013). Design of steel surface and wetting properties by laser patterning (doctoralThesis). Universität Des Saarlandes, Universität Des Saarlandes. doi:10.22028/D291-22989.
  9. "Laser-Interference Crystallization of Amorphous Silicon: Applications and Properties". 
  10. Andrés F. Lasagni, Carsten Gachot, Kim E. Trinh, Michael Hans, Andreas Rosenkranz (2017-02-17), "Direct laser interference patterning, 20 years of development: from the basics to industrial applications" (in German), SPIE Proceedings, Laser-based Micro- and Nanoprocessing XI (SPIE) 10092: pp. 186–196, doi:10.1117/12.2252595, Bibcode2017SPIE10092E..11L, 
  11. Andrés Fabián Lasagni (2006) (in German), Advanced design of periodical structures by laser interference metallurgy in the micro/nano scale on macroscopic areas, doi:10.22028/D291-22362,, retrieved 2022-09-19 
  12. Roch, Teja; Dimitri Benke & Andres Fabian Lasagni, "Method and arrangement for forming a structuring on surfaces of components by means of a laser beam", US patent 9764424, published 2016-01-27, assigned to Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Angewandten Forschung E.V.
  13. Lasagni, Andres Fabian, "Apparatus and method for the interference patterning of planar samples", US patent 9233435, published 2016-01-12, assigned to Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Angewandten Forschung E.V.
  14. Lasagni, Andrés Fabián; Eckhard Bever & Teja Roch, "Device, arrangement, and method for the interference structuring of planar samples", US patent 9370843, published 2016-06-21, assigned to Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Angewandten Forschung E.V.
  15. Lasagni, Andrés-Fabián & Bogdan Voisiat, "Verfahren zur Herstellung einer strukturierten Oberfläche auf einem Gegenstand [Method for producing a structured surface on an object]", DE patent 102018216221, published 2020-03-26, assigned to Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Angewandten Forschung E.V.
  16. Lasagni, Andrés F.; Roch, Teja; Langheinrich, Denise; Bieda, Matthias; Wetzig, Andreas (2011-01-01). "Large Area Direct Fabrication of periodic Arrays using Interference Patterning" (in en). Physics Procedia. Lasers in Manufacturing 2011 - Proceedings of the Sixth International WLT Conference on Lasers in Manufacturing 12: 214–220. doi:10.1016/j.phpro.2011.03.125. ISSN 1875-3892. Bibcode2011PhPro..12..214L. 
  17. Divliansky, Ivan B.; Shishido, Atsushi; Khoo, Iam-Choon; Mayer, Theresa S.; Pena, David; Nishimura, Suzushi; Keating, Christine D.; Mallouk, Thomas E. (2001-11-19). "Fabrication of two-dimensional photonic crystals using interference lithography and electrodeposition of CdSe". Applied Physics Letters 79 (21): 3392–3394. doi:10.1063/1.1420584. ISSN 0003-6951. Bibcode2001ApPhL..79.3392D. 
  18. Hauschwitz, Petr; Jochcová, Dominika; Jagdheesh, Radhakrishnan; Cimrman, Martin; Brajer, Jan; Rostohar, Danijela; Mocek, Tomáš; Kopeček, Jaromír et al. (January 2020). "Large-Beam Picosecond Interference Patterning of Metallic Substrates" (in en). Materials 13 (20): 4676. doi:10.3390/ma13204676. PMID 33092278. Bibcode2020Mate...13.4676H. 
  19. Boor, Johannes de; Geyer, Nadine; Gösele, Ulrich; Schmidt, Volker (2009-06-15). "Three-beam interference lithography: upgrading a Lloyd's interferometer for single-exposure hexagonal patterning" (in EN). Optics Letters 34 (12): 1783–1785. doi:10.1364/OL.34.001783. ISSN 1539-4794. PMID 19529702. Bibcode2009OptL...34.1783D. 
  20. Lang, Valentin; Roch, Teja; Lasagni, Andrés Fabián (2016). "High-Speed Surface Structuring of Polycarbonate Using Direct Laser Interference Patterning: Toward 1 m2 min−1 Fabrication Speed Barrier". Advanced Engineering Materials 18 (8): 1342–1348. August 2016. doi:10.1002/adem.201600173. 
  21. "DLR — Berührungsfeld des Experiments" (in de). 
  22. "Touching Surfaces" (in de-DE). 2022-05-19. 
  23. "DLR - Institut für Luft- und Raumfahrtmedizin - Cosmic Kiss-Experimente des Instituts für Luft- und Raumfahrtmedizin auf der ISS". 
  24. Siems, Katharina; Müller, Daniel W.; Maertens, Laurens; Ahmed, Aisha; Van Houdt, Rob; Mancinelli, Rocco L.; Baur, Sandra; Brix, Kristina et al. (2022). "Testing Laser-Structured Antimicrobial Surfaces Under Space Conditions: The Design of the ISS Experiment BIOFILMS". Frontiers in Space Technologies 2: 773244. doi:10.3389/frspt.2021.773244. ISSN 2673-5075. Bibcode2022FrST....2.3244S. 
  25. "DLR - Institute of Aerospace Medicine - Preparations for the space experiment BIOFILMS take place in :envihab". 
  26. "Characterization of Biofilm Formation, Growth, and Gene Expression on Different Materials and Environmental Conditions in Microgravity (Space Biofilms) | Science Mission Directorate". 
  27. "Experiment Details". 
  28. "Press release XI / 2011 - Fraunhofer IWS" (in en). 
  29. "Transferpreis der Steinbeis-Stiftung | Löhn-Preis 2019". 
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  33. "Press release XI / 2013 - Fraunhofer IWS" (in en). 
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