December 2015: Nano-scale Snowman

This nano-scale snowman was discovered while observing a sample using scanning electron microscopy. He is made from an inorganic compound of Erbium doped Sodium Yttrium Fluoride, which has been studied at Heriot-Watt University for the development of up-converting materials for enhancing silicon photovoltaics.   For more information on this research please contact Dr Jonathan Morton.

December 2015: Light Fantastic 

A light show based on scientific research and light-based technologies brightened a December evening at Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh Campus to mark the closing of the International Year of Light events in Scotland. Read more...

November 2015: 1851 Industrial Fellowship awarded to the Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics

Adam Polak, a Research Engineer at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics, has been awarded a prestigious Industrial Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

Adam's research project ‘New imaging technology for identifying hazardous hydrocarbon molecules and compound’, which  is in conjunction with Fraunhofer CAP UK and University of Strathclyde, has applications including detecting dangerous gasses, spotting explosives and chemical weapons, and investigating art fraud read more....

September 2015: Dr Krystian Wlodarczyk and Professor Duncan Hand: Micro-structures for traceability marking of metal components

Full traceability of products and components is essential in medical and aerospace sectors. Common approaches include etching of serial numbers and bar codes or the use of a polymer holographic sticker, although the latter is inappropriate for many traceability marking applications in these sectors. Nevertheless, because the information carried by a hologram is distributed over its whole area it is much more robust to local damage and our objective has been to develop a laserbased process for direct embossing of reflective phase holograms on the surface of metals (e.g. 304-grade stainless steel) to help the identification and traceability of high value products and components. We used a pulsed frequency-tripled (JDSU Q-series) laser. It provides 35 ns pulses at 10 kHz pulse repetition rate. The short pulse UV (355 nm) output was chosen to achieve an optically smooth structure through the generation of the laser-induced surface deformations (LISDs).

This paper described a novel laser-based approach for the generation of unique identification markings directly on metals. It was shown that UV nanosecond laser pulses can locally melt the metal surface and generate optically smooth surface features. The shape and dimension of these laser-induced surface deformations depend on the chemical composition of the metal as well as the laser processing parameters such as the pulse energy and the number of laser pulses. By arranging the LISDs in an appropriate pattern, it is possible to produce holographic structures which can act as robust identification markings embedded to the metal surface.

Krystian Wlodarczyk and Duncan Hand - Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Marcus Ardron, Matthew Kidd, Nicholas

September 2015: Dr Xianzhong Chen: Nanostructure hologram with image-switchable functionality

A high-efficiency nanostructure hologram with image-switchable functionality in the visible and near infrared range has been developed by Dr Xianzhong Chen’s group at Heriot-Watt University, in collaboration with scientists from University of Birmingham and four universities in Hong Kong and China.

With the rapid development in nanotechnology and the unprecedented capabilities of manipulating light in a desirable manner by using man-made nanostructures, the conventional concept of what constitutes an optical hologram continues to evolve. To date, all the demonstrated polarization-controlled nanostructure holograms suffer from either low efficiency or poor image quality. The experimental demonstration of visible frequency nanostructure holograms with broadband optical response has been a significant challenge due to the high plasmonic loss and difficulties in high-uniformity nanofabrication.

An image-switchable nanostructure hologram capable of achieving high image quality and high efficiency has been experimentally demonstrated in the broadband. The designed nanostructure hologram features the combination of two sets of hologram patterns operating with opposite circular polarizations. A 16‐level phase hologram in the reflection mode is realized by patterning sub-wavelength metallic nanorods with spatially varying orientations on the SiO2 interlayer and the ground silver plane. The hologram is designed to display two symmetrically distributed off-axis images with high fidelity and a 64.7° field of view that are interchangeable by controlling the polarization of the input light. This work has been published in Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms9241).

Mr. Dandan Wen, the first author of this paper, said: “The demonstrated image switchable nanostructure hologram with its high performance in image quality, efficiency and bandwidth, represent a major advance in performance compared with previously demonstrated devices with polarization multiplexed functionalities.”  About the future of this breakthrough, Dr Chen mentioned “This work has the potential to not only redefine the state of the art in this specific topic, but also trigger the interest of the general public in the science and technology enabled by metamaterials and metasurfaces. It paves the way for future practical devices with switchable functionalities that may lead to advances in a wide range of fields such as microscopy, display, security, data storage, and information processing. We are looking forward to new links with relevant researchers and more industrial end-users to expand our knowledge of the application domain.” Details about Dr Chen’s research can be found in his group website (

September 2015:The Physics of Light: DIY Photography

Researchers from Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences were on hand at the Orkney International Science Festival as part of the Family Day event in Kirkwall to meet with the visitors and explore the inner workings of cameras and photography.  The ever popular Family Day is part of an extensive programme of workshops, schools talks and lectures delivered across the Orkney Islands every September.  This year was no exception, with hundreds of visitors attending the event on Saturday 5th September.

Our hands-on workshop aligns with the International Year of Light, and gives the visitors a chance to see at first hand the optics behind photography through building a simple camera from basic components.  Our ‘pop-up darkroom’ allowed the visitors to use their camera to take real photographs, highlighting that even a simple optical camera can give some impressive results!

Izabela Spaleniak, IPaQS researcher, commented that it was “great to see the excitement of the younger visitors when the simple camera was used to view the surrounding environment, and they saw first-hand the effect the lens had on the observed image”.

While capturing photographs on photographic paper may seem dated in this digital age, it allows the visitors to literally see the captured images develop in front of their eyes, and the combination of physics and chemistry highlights the importance of interdisciplinary research which is vital not only to scientific research but also to produce the next generation of medical instruments and consumer goods.

“There was a particular buzz about the image developing process, where the appearance of an image on the photographic paper resulted in giggles and gasps of amazement – and not just from the younger visitors!  It was great to see the accompanying adults getting involved in the activity too.” explains Bill MacPherson, Associate Professor in Physics.

Attendance at the Orkney International Science Festival follows on from a series of these workshops at the National Museum of Scotland, and has engaged with hundreds of visitors from across Scotland, as well as many visitors from overseas.

August 2015: Making light work of scholarship

Genevieve Gariepy, a Heriot-Watt PhD student within the Extreme Light group in the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS), has been awarded The Johnston and Florence Stoney Scholarship by the British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG). Read more...

August 2015: Heriot-Watt celebrates research funding success

Heriot-Watt has achieved its best-ever levels of research funding, bringing in more than £40.6million across the university in the 2014/15 financial year.

Prof Duncan Hand, Deputy Principal Research and Knowledge Exchange, said the results were all the more impressive against a backdrop of reduced available funding and demonstrated that the University was well on the way to achieving its target of an annual expenditure on research projects of £40 million by 2018. Read more...

August 2015: "Describing interacting quantum systems as mutual quantum environments leads to a powerful theory framework for modelling complex quantum many-body phenomena. This approach will be explored by Dr Hartmann in the project funded by his new grant."

Congratulations to Dr Michael Hartmann who has been awarded an EPSRC First Grant of £125K. Recent experimental achievements in superconducting circuits, semiconductors and atomic Rydberg media give rise to a novel class of quantum many-body systems that operates under non-equilibrium conditions. These new systems with their exceedingly large number of degrees of freedom pose a new scientific challenge. Dr. Hartmann's project will derive a versatile and powerful theoretical framework for the efficient yet accurate description of such systems in terms of their local properties only. In this way it will lay the technical foundations for exploring and understanding these novel devices, their functionalities and applications in Quantum Technologies.

August 2015: Heriot-Watt awarded two prestigious EPSRC Fellowships in Quantum Technology

Heriot-Watt University has won two prestigious Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Fellowships in Quantum Technology, namely an Established Career Fellowship for Professor Gerald Buller (worth £1.4 million) and an Early Career Fellowship for new academic Dr Alessandro Fedrizzi (worth £1.2 million).

Professor Gerald Buller is the founding Director of Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Photonics and Quantum Science, where Heriot-Watt’s activities in this field are based. Having been a leading pioneer in the subject for over twenty years, the Established Career Fellowship will concentrate on Professor Buller’s research in quantum enhancement of next generation imaging systems. Read more...

June 2015: Dr Matteo Clerici - Brightly Guided Sparks

A method of guiding electric sparks through air with lasers, a breakthrough joint Heriot-Watt study with INRS-EMT (Canada), is attracting international interest after publication in Scientific Advances.

Dr Matteo Clerici

Guiding electric discharges with lasers has been a long standing goal for the scientific community since the 1970s, both as a test bench for our understanding of the physics of intense lasers interaction with gasses and for the potential applications, including the possibility to control lightning strikes. Read more...

June 2015: Dr Robert Thomson - Lighting the way to new Wonder materials?

A glass lattice that traps light in such a way that it exhibits ‘infinite mass’ has been devised by a group of physicists at Heriot-Watt University.

The work of the group, from the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS) within the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, has been published in the journal Physical Review Letters. The paper reports the experimental demonstration and theoretical analysis of a glass matrix of waveguides, known as a photonic lattice, which is laser-written into a glass substrate. When a carefully prepared state of light is coupled into the photonic lattice, the light suddenly behaves as if it has ‘infinite mass’. Normally, light wants to diffract, in much the same way as water waves on a pond radiate outwards. This new type of ‘heavy’ light is just too heavy, it just travels on in the same waveguide within the lattice, forever. Read more.....

April 2015: Giuseppe Intermite - Best student paper presentation at SPIE's Optics + Optoelectronics International Symposia - Prague

Congratulations to Giuseppe Intermite, research student at Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS) under the supervision of Prof. G.S. Buller, who attended the Optics and Optoelectronics International Symposia this month in Prague and was awarded Best student paper presentation.  Giuseppe’s paper was titled ‘Enhancing the fill-factor of CMOS SPAD arrays using microlens integration’.  The authors are G. Intermite, R. E. Warburton , A. McCarthy , X. Ren , F. Villa , A. J. Waddie , M.R. Taghizadeh , Y. Zou , F. Zappa , A. Tosi  and G. S. Buller.  Congratulations again to Giuseppe, keep up the good work.

March 2015: Oliver Brown - "I'm a Scientist, get me out of here" Particle Physics Award

Congratulations to Oliver Brown, research student at Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPAQS) under the supervision of Dr Michael Hartman, winner of this year’s “I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here” Particle Physics Zone award.  Oliver won prize money of £500 and plans to use this to build a LEGO Watt Balance: An apparatus to demonstrate the definition of mass based on the new SI.  Oliver said “I’ll be using my prize money to take an experiment made of LEGO out in to the world and getting folk to do it for themselves because, as I hope you’ve learned, anyone can be a scientist you just need a passion for it!” Well done Oliver.

February 2015: Scottish Launch of the UNESCO International Year of Light

The official Scottish launch of the International Year of Light took place this week at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. This global initiative, introduced by the UN, aims to highlight the importance of light and optical technologies. Read more

January 2015: Scientists Slow the Speed of Light

Over the last two and a half years Professor Daniele Faccio has been working in collaboration with his colleagues at the University of Glasgow to see if they can slow down light! They have just had a paper accepted in Science.

The result shown here is that, quoting from the abstract "even in free space, the invariance of the speed of light only applies to plane waves." We have shown that any other beam, including the typical beam emitted e.g. from a laser point, does not travel at the speed of light (it is slower) and its specific speed depends on the actual shape of the beam.

  January 2015: Strip the Cosmos - Secrets of the Black Hole

Following on from November's story the series was aired on the Discovery Channel and premiered on on the 9th Janaury. You can view this on YouTube