Manfred Thumm was born in Magdeburg, Germany, on August 5, 1943. He received the Dipl. Phys. and Dr. rer. nat. degrees in physics from University of Tübingen, Germany, in 1972 and 1976, respectively.
At the University of Tübingen he was involved in the investigation of spin-dependent nuclear forces in inelastic neutron scattering. From 1972 to 1975 he was Doctoral Fellow of the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes. In 1976 he joined the Institute for Plasma Research in the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Stuttgart, Germany, where he worked on RF production and RF heating of toroidal pinch plasmas for thermonuclear fusion research. From 1982 to 1990 his research activities were mainly devoted to electromagnetic theory and experimental verification in the areas of component development transmission of very high power millimeter waves through oversized waveguides and of antenna structures for RF plasma heating with microwaves. In June 1990 he became a Full Professor at the Institute for Microwaves and Electronics of the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, and Head of the Gyrotron Development and Microwave Technology Division, Institute for Technical Physics, Research Center Karlsruhe (Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe: FZK). From April 1999 to September 2011, he was the Director of the Institute for Pulsed Power and Microwave Technology, FZK, where his current research projects have been the development of high power gyrotrons, dielectric vacuum windows, transmission lines and antennas for nuclear fusion plasma heating, and industrial material processing. On October 1, 2009, the University of Karlsruhe and the FZK have merged to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). M. Thumm has authored/co-authored 8 books, 21 book chapters, more than 590 research papers in refereed scientific journals, and more than 1670 conference proceedings articles. He holds 14 patents on active and passive microwave devices.
He was member of the IEEE EDS Vacuum Devices Technical Committee and the NPSS PSAC Executive Committee, and is a member of the Chapter 8.6 Committee Vacuum Electronics and Displays of the Information Technical Society in German VDE (Chairman from 1996 to 1999) and a member of the German Physical Society. From 2007 to 2008 he was an EU member of the ITER Working Group on Heating and Current Drive, the vice chairman of the Scientific-Technical Council of the FZK and the vice chairman of the Founding Senate of the KIT. From 2008 to 2010 he was the deputy head of the Topic Fusion Technology of the KIT Energy. He was the General Chair of the IRMMW-THz 2004 and IEEE ICOPS 2008 Conference in Karlsruhe, Germany. He has been a member of the International Organization and Advisory Committees of many International Conferences and a member of the Editorial Boards of several ISI refereed journals. From 2003 to 2010 he was the ombudsman for upholding good scientific practice at FZK/KIT. Since 2012 he has been Editor for Vacuum Electron Devices of IEEE Trans. on Electron Devices, Distinguished Lecturer of IEEE NPSS, KIT Distinguished Senior Fellow and member of the International Advisory Committee of Cooperative Innovation Centre of THz Science in China. Since 2016 he serves as member of the Scientific Advisory Council of the Leibniz Institute for Plasma Science and Technology Greifswald.
He was awarded with the Kenneth John Button Medal and Prize 2000, in recognition of outstanding contributions to research on the physics of gyrotrons and their applications. In 2002, he became IEEE Fellow and was awarded the title of Honorary Doctor, presented by the St. Petersburg State Technical University. He received the IEEE-EDS 2008 IVEC Award for Excellence in Vacuum Electronics. Together with two of his colleagues he received the 2006 Best Paper Award of the Journal of Microwave Power and Electromagnetic Energy and the 2009 CST University Publication Award. In 2010 he was awarded with the IEEE-NPSS Plasma Science and Applications Award. He is a winner of the 2010 open grant competition of the Government of the Russian Federation to support scientific research projects implemented under supervision of Leading Scientists at Russian institutions of higher education (with Novosibirsk State University). Together with A. Litvak and K. Sakamoto he has been the recipient of the EPS Plasma Physics Innovation Prize 2011. In 2012 he was awarded with the Heinrich Hertz Prize of the EnBW Foundation and the KIT and the HECTOR School Teaching Award in Embedded Systems Engineering of KIT. In 2017 he received the Exceptional Service Award of the IRMMW-THz Society and in 2018 the IEEE NPSS Merit Award.