IEP/Institut/Prof. Ernst

Homepage of Wolfgang E. Ernst, Emeritus Professor

© Lunghammer, TU Graz

Many thanks to the Journal PhysChem ChemPhys of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the four Guest Editors, and all Contributing Authors

Curriculum Vitae


1983  Habilitation (Experimental Physics) - Freie Universität Berlin, Germany; Thesis: New Laser and Microwave Spectroscopy Methods for High Resolution Studies of Radicals

1975-1977   PhD in Physics, Institute for Plasma Physics at TU Hannover, Germany (stipend by Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes); Thesis: Spectral Line Emission and Ionization Relaxation in Krypton Shock Waves

1974-1975   M.Sc. Physics, Institute for Plasma Physics at TU Hannover, Germany; Thesis: Gas Density Measurements in SF6 Shock Waves by X-ray Absorption

1969-1975   Study of Physics and Mathematics at TU Hannover, Germany, and Imperial College London, U.K. (stipend by Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes)

Career History

Since Oct.2019:  Emeritus University Professor, TU Graz

2002-2019          Ordinary University Professor, Institute of Experimental Physics, TU Graz

1990–2002         Tenured Full Professor of Physics, The Pennsylvania State University, USA, 1997-2002 Professor of Physics and Chemistry, 1996 Sabbatical at the      Chemistry Department of Princeton University, USA, Host: Prof. Giacinto Scoles

1983–1989         Privatdozent at the Freie Universität Berlin, 1985-1989 Heisenberg Fellow, 1987-1989 “Außerplanmäßiger Professor”, 1986 Sabbatical at the Chemistry Department of Stanford University, USA, with Prof. Richard N. Zare

1979–1983         University Assistant at the Institute of Molecular Physics, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

1978–1979         Postdoctoral fellow at the Department of  Electrical Engineering, Rice University, Houston, TX, USA (Prof. Frank Tittel’s group)

Academic and Professional Awards

2015  Forschungspreis des Landes Steiermark (the Research Prize of Styria/Austria)

2013  Election as Fellow of the European Physical Society

1998  Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Physical Sciences

1997  Election as Fellow of The American Physical Society

1987  Physik-Preis 1987, Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft

1985 Heisenberg Fellowship (German young faculty award)

1978  Postdoctoral fellowship, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

1970  Scholarship, foreign exchange, and Graduate Fellow (1975), all Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes

for more details see biography


My research projects have focussed on the investigation of atomic and molecular interactions in the areas of high-resolution molecular spectroscopy, cluster aggregation, helium nanodroplets as nanocryostats for the formation of weakly bound molecules, and helium atom surface scattering. Clusters generated in helium droplets have been deposited on various substrates and analyzed by surface measurement techniques.

Results from over 40 years of research fall into the following categories (with links to corresponding publications):

• Doping with atoms and aggregation of molecules or clusters:


• Ions and Rydberg states after laser excitation:

  • trimer molecules

  • high-resolution molecular beam spectroscopy of Na3 with analysis in the frame of an effective molecular Hamiltonian including pseudorotation, rotation, and hyperfine interaction:

Pseudorotational motion of the three nuclei as result of vibronic coupling:

  • alkali trimers in high-spin states on He-droplets:


  • Comparing high-resolution measurements with ab-initio calculations (with Andreas W. Hauser) and "translating" between potential surface parameters and traditional molecular constants:

alkaline earth monohalides       and                     alkali - alkaline earth diatomics

from Phys. Rev. A39, 1575-1578 (1989)               from PCCP 18, 5964-5973 (2016) 


  • Revealing Ultrafast Population Transfer between Nearly Degenerate Electronic States (P. Heim, S. Mai, B. Thaler, S. Cesnik, D. Avagliano, D. Bella-Velidou, W. E. Ernst, L. González, and M. Koch, J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 11, 1443 (2020)

New simulation-experiment combination allows deeper insights into ultrafast light-induced processes: By combining experiments with ultrashort laser pulses and theoretical simulations of light-induced processes, the energy flow in acetone – a molecule that has already been well studied – could now be observed at a key energy window between three closely related states.

Early computer control of a home-built tunable ring dye laser

First demonstration of XeF excimer laser action in the blue-green spectral region

Early spectroscopy in the extreme vacuum ultraviolet by frequency tripling of tunable UV laser light

Applied spectroscopy for remote materials safety control in radiation environments

Helium atom scattering to explore the surface dynamics of semimetals and topological insulators

Elastic scattering                                                                            

Inelastic scattering

Evolution of ordered nanoporous phases during h-BN growth: controlling the route from gas-phase precursor to 2D material by in situ monitoring: Adrian Ruckhofer, Marco Sacchi, Anthony Payne, Andrew P. Jardine, Wolfgang E. Ernst, Nadav Avidor, and Anton Tamtögl, Nanoscale Horizons 7, 1388-1396 (2022)

Personal tribute to Karl-Heinz Rieder

Use atom optics to focus neutral helium beams by Fresnel zone plates or curved mirrors

Our movie at the American Physical Society March Meeting 2015 in San Antonio


photo by Florian Lackner

Institut of Experimental Physics
Graz University of Technology

Petersgasse 16
8010 Graz

Tel.: +43 (0) 316 / 873 - 8140
Fax: +43 (0) 316 / 873 - 8655

Office Hours:
by appointment