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Späth was chairman of Jenoptik AG when it was established in 1991 as the legal successor to the previously publicly owned (VEB) Carl Zeiss Jena. He had been charged with closing down the historic operation, but saw the industry's potential in the area, and instead reorganized and expanded the optical engineering company, transforming it into a public company listed in 1998.
Jenoptik's success and the restructuring of today's Carl Zeiss Jena helped revitalize the optics industry throughout the region. As a result, Jena, once the cradle of optical technology where Zeiss, Schott and Abbe established a science- and technology-based industry from what had been essentially a craft, has since reclaimed its role as a innovative center for optics.
Späth had previously served as minister-president of Baden-Württemberg, and later as the Norwegian consul general for Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt as well as president of the chamber of commerce and industry of East Thuringia. After leaving Jenoptik, he hosted "Späth am Abend" on the German TV station n-tv, a popular interview and commentary programme concerned with economics and politics. This was followed by a weekly broadcast "Späth zur Woche" on the same station, commenting on current politics. He serves on the boards of several corporations, and has authored several books on political, media, and economic topics. He has received several honorary doctorships and other awards including the J. McCloy Award from the American Council on Germany.
The SPIE Visionary Award will be presented on Monday 15 June at the New Munich Trade Fair Centre. SPIE Europe Optical Metrology will run 15-18 June and will be co-located with World of Photonics 2009. SPIE Europe is one of eight partners providing technical conferences as part of the biennial event whith also includes the Laser World of Photonics exhibition. The European Optical Society (EOS) and German Scientific Laser Society (WLT) are participating as Cooperating Organisations of SPIE Europe Optical Metrology.
SPIE Europe, headquartered in Cardiff, UK, is a European-based extension of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, which was founded in 1955 as an educational not-for-profit professional society advancing light-based technologies. SPIE Europe annually presents several events with conferences, exhibitions, courses and workshops as well as other membership, educational and industry forums. These activities catalyze collaboration among technical disciplines and promote the advancement of science, information exchange, continuing education, publishing opportunities, patent precedent and career and professional growth. In 2008, the Society provided $1.9 million for scholarships, grants and other activities supporting research and education around the world.