Franz J. Himpsel received his Diplom in Physics in 1973 at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich with a thesis in quantum electrodynamics advised by Fritz Bopp. After a summer at CERN he switched to condensed matter physics, working with Wulf Steinmann at Munich on early angle-resolved photoemission experiments using synchrotron radiation from DESY. After receiving his PhD he joined Dean Eastman's group at IBM Yorktown Heights in 1977 for research on the electronic structure of solids and surfaces using synchrotron radiation. He became staff member in 1980, manager in 1982, and senior manager in 1985, heading the Surface Physics Department. In 1995 he moved to the Physics Department of the UW Madison as full professor, where he also served as the Scientific Director of the Synchrotron Radiation Center (SRC) from 1997 to 2002. He became professor emeritus in 2015.

His scientific interests have been in the area of surfaces and nanostructures. Utilizing his experience with synchrotron radiation he devised methods for mapping energy bands of solids and surfaces by angle-resolved photoemission. As complement he developed inverse photoemission with tunable photon energy for the study of unoccupied states. For identifying the bonding configurations at semiconductor surfaces/interfaces he took advantage of surface-sensitive core level spectroscopy with synchrotron radiation. Self-assembled nanostructures at surfaces have been a common thread throughout his career, such as magnetic quantum wells, atomic chains for the study of low-dimensional electrons, and an atomic scale memory for testing the limits of data storage. More recently, he ventured into the attachment of bio-molecules to surfaces and the design of new materials for solar cells. Since retiring he has shifted his focus toward new ideas for solving long-standing problems in physics. He has about 480 publications in refereed journals and was listed among the 100 most-cited physicists.

Scholarship of the German Studienstiftung as undergraduate and PhD student
Peter Mark Award of the American Vacuum Society 1985
Fellow of the American Physical Society 1985
Fellow of the American Vacuum Society 1994
Member of the New York Academy of Sciences 1995
Ednor M. Rowe Professor of Physics 2000
Semiconductor Surfaces, Interfaces and Nanostructures Prize 2005, (ICFSI 2005)
Humboldt Research Award 2005
Davisson-Germer Prize of the American Physical Society 2007

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