Youth Encouragement Award goes to Empa Apprentices

Rediscovering Kirlian photography


Four apprentice physics laboratory technicians from Empa’s Electronics and Metrology Laboratory – Beat Müller, Michael Stiefel, Lukas Rotach and Sven Toggweiler – have won a very creditable second prize in the Youth Encouragement Awards presented by the Haba Company. The four young men won the prize for their project on Kirlian photography.

Michael, Sven, Lukas and Beat (l. to r.) with the Kirlian photography apparatus

In 2001 HABA AG decided to establish a set of awards to encourage creativity and strengthen motivation in young persons. The prizes, including the total sum of CHF 35,000, are awarded biennially. This year four Empa apprentices decided to try their luck and submitted their project on Kirlian photography for consideration. They chose the topic because this photographic method is not well known in Switzerland. A central part of the project, which involved a total of 650 hours of work, was the construction of the photographic apparatus. But their hard work paid off in the end, the jury of experts being very impressed with the results of their sterling efforts. And in addition to the words of praise, the four young technicians were awarded second place and received prize money of CHF 4000, which naturally was received with great pleasure!

Kirlian photograph of an electronic connector

What is Kirlian photography?

Kirlian photography is a photographic method of imaging a high-voltage discharge whereby not just metal points serve as electrodes, but also body parts, animals and plants.


The technique is used when testing materials, for example, to make fine cracks visible. The process is named after Semyon Davidovitch Kirlian, a Ukrainian who accidentally discovered this means of photography in 1937.


Author: Oliver Estermann,

Contact: Peter Anderegg,