October 2017: Dr Marcello Ferrera - Beating the electronic speed limit with light

The heart of any smartphone, tablet or computer is an electronic chip. And that's the problem.

If you can imagine a single chip containing thousands of transistors the size of bacteria, that's what they were like in the 1970s. These days some chips contain billions of tiny semiconductor switches.

Over the decades, these chips have been getting faster and faster. But a speed limit is looming.

The electrons rushing through the copper connections can't go much quicker because they start clumping together instead of flowing freely.

If we want our devices to go even faster, we'll have to drop electrons in favour of photons. In other words, light.  Read more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-41517202 

September 2017: Dr Michael Tanner Medical camera makes light work of seeing through the body

Scientists have developed a camera that can see through the human body.

The camera is designed to help doctors track medical tools known as endoscopes that are used to investigate a range of internal conditions.

The new device is able to detect sources of light inside the body, such as the illuminated tip of the endoscope’s long flexible tube.

Until now, it has not been possible to track where an endoscope is located in the body in order to guide it to the right place without using X-rays or other expensive methods. Read more....

August 2017: Professor Daniele Faccio - Black Hole Research Goes Global

A cutting-edge research project from Heriot-Watt University investigating light at its extremes, has gained international attention in the Arabic states.

Findings from Black Hole research was broadcast on BBC 4 Tech and has reached over five million viewers abroad.

It was also published on the BBC Arabic Facebook page and was viewed 9,500 times and received 18 shares on the first day of posting. Read more...

June 2017: Dr Michael Hartmann - Hartmann paper enters the top 5 papers in Quantum Mechanics in the last 10 years

Congratulations to Dr. Michael Hartmann, whose 2006 paper, "Strongly interacting polaritons in coupled arrays of cavities" (Hartmann et al., Nature Physics 2, 849 (2006)) has entered the top 5 of the most cited papers over a 10 year period from the category Quantum Mechanics, with over 730 citations on Google Scholar.

June 2017: Professor Gerald Buller - A Light Approach to Cybercrime Prevention

Heriot-Watt, NICT, and NTT researchers demonstrate record breaking transmission distance for quantum digital signatures using installed optical fibre in a metropolitan network.

We take it for granted that the messages and emails we send are not tampered with. But just as a hand-written signature on a document gives some confidence that the document is genuine, digital messages also need to be signed to guarantee that they haven’t been forged or tampered with. 

Schemes for digitally signing messages exist, and are now so widely used that the European Union has granted digital signatures the same legal standing as their handwritten counterparts.  However, the security of the signing methods we commonly use is only computational. This means that it relies on the difficulty of performing certain calculations, such as factoring large numbers. That is, signed messages can be forged with enough computational effort, and there is no guarantee that this will not happen. If better algorithms for these calculations are discovered, then the security of the signature schemes we use is no longer guaranteed.

Quantum digital signatures offer a potential alternative which guarantee security not through computational complexity but instead through the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics.  Previous demonstrations of quantum digital signatures have operated over relatively short lengths of optical fibre in controlled laboratory environments, severely limiting the prospect of practical applications.

A collaboration between researchers at Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh, UK), The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (Koganei, Tokyo, Japan), and The Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (Atsugi, Kanagawa, Japan) has successfully demonstrated transmission of quantum digital signatures over an optical fibre attenuation equivalent to 134 km  – the longest transmission distance to date.  The demonstration, which employed a combination of a fixed length of 90 km of installed optical fibre in the Tokyo metropolitan optical fibre network and controlled attenuation to simulate additional fibre lengths, used a prototype commercial system to carry out the transmission of the signatures – highlighting the commercial potential of this approach.

It is hoped that this demonstration will lead to future deployment of quantum digital signatures within the UK Quantum Network as part of the UK Quantum Technology Hub for Quantum Communications Technologies.

For more details: Robert J. Collins, Ryan Amiri, Mikio Fujiwara, Toshimori Honjo, Kaoru Shimizu, Kiyoshi Tamaki, Masahiro Takeoka, Masahide Sasaki, Erika Andersson, and Gerald S. Buller, “Experimental demonstration of quantum digital signatures over 43 dB channel loss using differential phase shift quantum key distribution”, Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 3235 (2017) DOI:10.1038/s41598‑017-03401-9

May 2017: IPAQS Annual Symposium

On 12th May the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPAQS) held its second Annual Symposium.  The event was very well attended with Professor Derryck Reid, Head of Institute, welcoming around 100 guests to the Post Graduate Centre Cairn auditorium.

The symposium included talks from a number of prominent speakers. The morning session started with a keynote by Professor Christine Silberhorn, from the Department of Physics, Paderborn University, Germany.  Professor Silberhorn’s talk was entitled ‘Quantum optics and information science in multi-dimensional photonics networks’. 

This was followed by two talks showcasing research highlights from within the Institute:

  • Dr Alessandro Fedrizzi – ‘Spooky action in action: quantum technology with entangled photons
  • Dr Cristian Bonato – ‘A smart quantum sensor based on a single spin’

The afternoon session kicked off with the second keynote, given by Professor Nikolay Zheludev, Deputy Director, Optoelectronics Research Centre, University of Southampton, entitled ‘Everything you always wanted to know about the future of metamaterials, but were afraid to ask’.

This was followed by our third guest speaker, Professor Donna Strickland who joined us from Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Waterloo, entitled ‘Multi-frequency raman generation for intense ultrashort pulses

This was followed by a further two talks showcasing selected 2016 research highlights from IPAQS:

  • Professor Daniele Faccio – ‘What can you do with a camera that images at a trillion frames per second’
  • Dr Richard McCracken – ‘Laser frequency combs for astronomy'

We welcomed Professor John Underhill, Chair of Exploration Geoscience & Chief Scientist at Heriot-Watt University to provide the closing address.

Professor Derryck Reid would like to thank everyone who attended and help support this year's event.

May 2017: Professor Duncan Hand - Heriot-Watt receives £1.3million to make medical devices smaller, smarter and cheaper

Engineers and scientists from across Heriot-Watt University have been awarded £1.3 million to tackle one of the biggest problems facing the medical profession: making advanced medical devices smaller, smarter and cheaper than current versions.   

Optical, mechanical, electronic and manufacturing engineering and science experts from across the university will form the new Medical Device Manufacturing Group, led by Professor Duncan Hand, who also leads the five-university EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes. Read more...

February 2017: Dr Xianzhong Chen, Professor Brian Gerardot & Dr Wei Wang - Nanorod structures for multichannel superpositions of orbital angular momentum states published in Advanced Materials

Light possessing OAM (namely optical vortex) has a helical phase structure described by , where  is the azimuthal angle, is the topological charge of optical vortex corresponding to an orbital angular momentum of  per photon. Recently, the OAM of light has attracted considerable attention due to its promising applications, including optical tweezers, quantum memories, and metrology. Despite the diverse applications of OAM ranging from metrology to quantum entanglements, there are fundamental or technical challenges for current techniques to efficiently generate and manipulate multi-OAM-state of light.

For practical applications of orbital angular momentum (OAM) states, a simple approach is highly desirable for the generation of OAM beams and the manipulation of their superpositions in multiple channels. In collaboration with University of Birmingham, Dr Xianzhong Chen’s group experimentally demonstrated a facile metasurface approach to realize polarization-controllable multichannel superpositions of OAM states at will. Four OAM beams in separate channels are observed for an incident Gaussian beam with circular polarization. By manipulating the polarization state of the incident light, arbitrary control of the superpositions of various OAM states in multiple channels is realized using a single plasmonic metasurface. The combination of multichannel OAM generation, polarization-controlled OAM superposition, subwavelength resolution, broad spectral band, and compactness renders this technology very attractive for diverse applications in both classical physics and quantum sciences. This work has been published in Advanced Materials (DOI: 10.1002/adma.201603838). Details about Dr Chen’s research can be found in his group website (http://nanophotonicslab.eps.hw.ac.uk/).

Figure 1 SEM image of the fabricated metasurface and numerically calculated and experimentally observed superpositions of OAM states. This metasurface produces two kinds of superpositions, one for OAM states with and , and another one for OAM states with and . 

February 2017: Professor Derryck Reid and Professor Daniele Faccio elected as Fellows of the RSE

A big congratulations to Derryck and Daniele who were this month elected as Fellows for the RSE.

They are among 60 distinguished individuals who have been elected to become Fellows of the RSE. Hailing from sectors that range from the arts, business, science and technology and academia, they join the current RSE Fellowship whose varied expertise supports the advancement of learning and useful knowledge in Scottish public life.


February 2017: Dr Alessandro Fedrizzi - Heriot-Watt helps Route Monkey take quantum leap

Professor David Corne from the School of Mathematical and Computing Sciences, and Dr Alessandro Fedrizzi, from the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, have been working with Livingston-based company Route Monkey to create innovative algorithms for the company’s transport and travel systems.

The team has now launched a project with NQIT to develop, test and commercialise quantum algorithms.

Quantum computers use the fundamental laws of nature to solve certain tasks faster than classical computers. In this collaboration with Route Monkey, we’re developing quantum-enhanced software for real-world applications.

Dr Alessandro Fedrizzi, Heriot-Watt University

Route Monkey’s optimisation solutions eliminate unnecessary mileage and improve vehicle utilisation, typically helping to reduce fleet costs by up to 20 per cent and substantially cutting carbon emissions. The algorithms are capable of making millions of calculations in a relatively short space of time, vastly improving on manual transport planning. Read more...

February 2017: Professor Robert Thomson - Colours of light revealed in time-stretch breakthrough 

Professor Robert Thomson and his team, working in collaboration with physicists and engineers at the Universities of Bath and Edinburgh, have massively increased the technique’s potential applications. The team has multiplexed its detection capability by over two orders of magnitude, using advanced multicore optical fibres, photonic lanterns and single-photon-sensitive detector arrays.

In many cases, the most useful form of light is as a series of optical pulses, rather than a continuous stream. Previously, measuring the colours of light that form these pulses often required bulky and expensive instruments. One approach  is to use a technique known as time-stretch spectroscopy, but this technique has, until now, had limited applications outside the lab. Read more...

November 2016: Professor Ajoy Kar & Professor Gerald Buller elected as Fellows of the Optical Society of America

Heriot-Watt academics Professor Gerald Buller and Professor Ajoy Kar have been elected as Fellows of the Optical Society of America (OSA) in their 2017 Fellows class, which contained 96 new appointments from 19 different countries. Read more...

November 2016: Dr Erik Gauger - Catching the Sun

New research led by Heriot-Watt is offering the prospect of cheap and efficient solar cells of a conformable type that could be worn on the body or even painted onto windows.

Sunlight is our most abundant source of renewable energy, and learning how best to harvest this radiation holds the key to meeting the world's future power needs.

For solar energy to become a viable alternative to fossil fuels, solar cells need to be both inexpensive to manufacture and efficient in terms of energy they collect. Now a Scottish-led team have taken a major step towards this goal by using quantum mechanics to design molecular solar cells to be more efficient. Read more...

November 2016: Aurora Maccarone - PhD student wins Best Student Paper Presentation Prize

Aurora Maccarone, PhD student from the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, has won the Best Student paper presentation at the Emerging Imaging and Sensing Technologies Conference, part of SPIE Security and Defence 2016 held in Edinburgh in September 2016. Her prize includes a certificate, complimentary SPIE membership, free downloads of scientific papers and a cash sum. Read more...

October 2016: EPS Postgraduate Poster Event 2016

Congratulations to all the winners at the Annual EPS PGR Poster Event 2016.

The Annual EPS PGR Poster Event offers a platform for those students who have already completed or are approaching the end of the first year of study to showcase their research. It also provides an ideal opportunity for students and staff across the School to meet and discuss current projects.

A record number of 85 students presented their research at this year's event. Awards were presented to students for the best posters, as well as to students in their 2nd year for excellence in their research and an internal Thesis Prize. Read more...

May 2016: Successful First IPAQS Annual Symposium

On 19th May the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPAQS) held its first Annual Symposium.  The event was very well attended with Professor Derryck Reid, Head of Institute, welcoming over 100 guests to the Post Graduate Centre Cairn auditorium.

The symposium included talks from a number of prominent speakers. The morning session started with a keynote by Professor Philip Russell, founding Director at the Max-Planck Institute for the Science of Light, entitled ‘The Multi-Faceted World of Photonic Crystal Fibres’. 

This was followed by two talks showcasing research highlights from within the Institute:

  • Dr Eric Gauger – ‘Collective light-matter interaction effects for the quantum enhanced absorption of light’
  • Dr Robert Thomson – ‘Photonic lanterns for precision astronomical spectrographs’

The afternoon session kicked off with the second keynote, given by Professor Tim Spiller, founding Director of the York Centre for Quantum Technologies and also Director of the UK Quantum Communications Hub, entitled ‘Quantum Communications and the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme’.

This was followed by a further three talks showcasing selected 2015 research highlights from IPAQS:

  • Dr Marcello Ferrera – ‘Dynamic nanophotonics with  transparent conducting oxides’
  • Dr Jonathan Leach – 'Detecting the unseen – Inverse problems in quantum optics'
  • Dr Richard Carter – 'Ultrafast Microwelding'

The day closed with a talk from one of our former Institute members who is the co-founder and managing director of the Heriot-Watt spin-out company Chromacity Ltd.:

Dr Christopher Leburn – 'Spinning out Chromacity – A steep learning curve away from academia'

Professor Derryck Reid would like to thank everyone who attended this event and helped make it a success.

May 2016: IPAQS First Annual Symposium 

The Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences at Heriot-Watt University is one of the largest groupings of photonics researchers in the UK, with activities spanning Ultrafast Photonics, Quantum Photonics and Quantum Information, and Applied Photonics.

On Thursday 19th May we are holding our first Annual Symposium featuring key note talks by Professor Philip Russell (Director at the Max-Planck Institute for the Science of Light) and Professor Tim Spiller (Director of the York Centre for Quantum Technologies).  We will also be showcasing research highlights from IPAQS during 2015.

Thank you to everyone who has registered.  Coffee is available from 09:50 in the Post Graduate Centre on Gait 2 with a start scheduled for 10:20.

For further details see our Symposium Schedule 

April 2016: Anti counterfeit hologram could end manufacturers' nightmare

Researchers at Heriot-Watt are developing a tamper-proof hologram that could replace serial numbers and barcodes, reducing the trade in counterfeit goods.

Manufacturers of high value goods like electronics and aviation parts etch serial numbers into products, use bar codes or place polymer holographic stickers on the items to provide identification and traceability of products and to assure customers of quality. However, serial numbers and bar codes can be damaged and stickers are vulnerable to tampering and counterfeiting.  Read more...



March 2016: Making light work – new research to exploit light in manufacturing

Four projects that exploit light in innovative manufacturing processes and technologies have secured £2.7 million funding from the EPSRC.

Following on from 14 feasibility studies announced in 2014, these schemes, which have support from companies such as Rolls-Royce and Renishaw, have the potential to impact the aerospace, laser and precision engineering industries.

The projects are diverse and exciting in their aims. They range from producing ultra-thin films for use in electronics, to incorporating metallic nanoparticles into materials such as plastics that can act as sensors or anti-microbial surfaces, to using lasers to make crystals for thin-film lasers and using terahertz radiation to detect where materials are stressed. Read more...


February 2016: International Day of Women and Girls in Science

The School of Engineering & Physical Sciences at Heriot-Watt University celebrates the Inaugural International Day of Women and Girls in Science as designated by the United Nations. The Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences held an event where they picked their favourite female scientist, posed for a picture and gave their reasons for choosing that person. You can view some photos from the event.

Inaugural International Day of Women and Girls in Science – as proclaimed by the United Nations


December 2014: School of Engineering and Physical Sciences REF 2014 success


The increasing strength of research activity in the school is affirmed by our excellent performance in REF2014. Our research quality was assessed in 3 'Units of Assessment', namely General Engineering (joint submission with the University of Edinburgh), Physics and Chemistry.  Read more....

To view the Principal's REF video and more click here


November 2014: Quantum Technology Hubs


Heriot-Watt University will play a leading role in the new national network of Quantum Technology Hubs that has received almost £30m funding.

Quantum mechanics
The hubs will explore the properties of quantum mechanics and how they can be harnessed for use in technology and be led by the universities of Birmingham, Glasgow, Oxford and York. Heriot-Watt University is leading partner of both the York and Glasgow quantum hubs.

Heriot-Watt’s research will push the limits of single photon imaging, enabling exciting new technologies that will allow us to see round corners or even through walls. It will also further development in quantum cryptography schemes which may eventually change the way we use secure e-commerce systems.

Read more https://www.hw.ac.uk/news/heriot-watt-plays-leading-role-uk-s-network-19726.htm


November 2014: Strip the Cosmos - Secrets of the Black Hole

The Science Channel is currently running a series called Strip the cosmos .  An episode was aired in the US on the 12th November titled 'Secrets of the Black Hole' featuring interviews from research@hw.  This series will run in the UK February/March 2015, the date still to be confirmed.  For further information see below:



September 2014: EPSRC Science Photo Competition 2014

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has launched its second Science Photo Competition, open to all EPSRC-supported researchers and EPSRC-supported doctoral students.

EPSRC is looking for images that will demonstrate Research in Action.  For further information click here.

July 2014: @HWQuantum at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

From the 2nd to the 7th of July, @HWQuantum joined up with @HWHorizons and @GlasgowOptics to form Creative Cameras at the 2014 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. The whole week was a huge success with over 15000 visitors coming to see the cutting edge science on display. We took 3D images, took video footage with single pixels, and showed the public how to image at the speed of light.

Imaging rounds corners captured peoples' imagination, and we made it into The Times and the Daily Mail. Our YouTube video has been seen almost 70 000 times! Huge thanks to the Royal Society for all the support.


July 2014: Detecting toxic hazards in a split second

A portable laser device is being developed at Heriot-Watt that can instantly identify chemical hazards, increasing the safety of emergency services and military personnel.

In an emergency scenario or military operation there can be uncertainty over whether liquids or gases are toxic, causing delays. The new laser technology could rapidly identify substances, meaning those in charge can decide whether the situation is safe or whether they need to start decontamination procedures.

Professor Reid said, “This system could rapidly sweep a person, vehicle, room or open space for the fingerprints of chemical or biological hazards. In a military scenario it could provide a commander with the information needed to continue an operation safely, but there are a number of potential civilian uses. The emergency services and airport security personnel could also find it extremely useful.

“Chemicals absorb light at different parts of the infrared spectrum depending on the bonds they have formed. When the light from our laser touches a chemical the colours of the light that bounce back show which chemicals it has interacted with.

“The colour patterns that are scattered back for any chemical are unique, like a fingerprint. The laser reads this fingerprint and the chemical is rapidly identified, whether it’s benign or toxic.”
The entire apparatus could be engineered into a relatively compact, easily portable unit. Professor Reid is also investigating a higher power version that could be mounted on a platform, for example being placed on the front of a car to scan upcoming terrain.

The research has been funded by a contract for £74,000 from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, under a Centre for Defence Enterprise themed competition. The 2012 competition sought generation-after-next chemical, biological and radiological hazard mitigation systems.


February 2014: SPIE Student Chapter

Over the past few months, Pragati Kumar and a number of other students have been working hard to start a SPIE student chapter at Heriot-Watt. After official approval from SPIE Board on 7th February 2014, elections were held on the 12th February in the presence of SPIE student members. Pragati Kumar was elected as President, Artur Kaczmarczyk as Vice-President, Peter E Kremer as Secretary and Ning Ma as Treasurer for the 2014-2015 session.

“The purpose of the Chapter shall be to promote the discipline of Optical Science and Engineering through the organized effort of this group in study, research, and discussion; to disseminate knowledge of the field of Optical Engineering; and to further the professional development of the students. The Chapter shall promote membership in SPIE by acquainting the student body with the ideas, purposes, and objectives of SPIE.”

They plan to work together with the OSA chapter to organize guest lectures, field trips, career counselling events, social events and public outreach activities. Further information can be found on their website http://www.hwuspie.org/. To know more about and to become a part of the Heriot-Watt Univ. SPIE Chapter, please get in touch with any of the officers.

February 2014: Researchers recognised by BAE Systems

A research team, led by Professor Andrew J. Moore from the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, were awarded a BAE Systems Chairman’s Bronze award for 2013. The award 'recognises people whose ideas, actions and behaviours make BAE Systems a better, more competitive company and help us live our values.'

The award was in response to a research study carried out by the team from the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences. The research, funded by BAE Systems, was to investigate the effect of cross-drafts on the shield gases that are used in welding.

Based on the research, BAE Systems has been able to reduce the amount of shield gas they use at one site by 50% (cost saving of approximately £300,000 per annum) and providing an improved carbon footprint for the welding process. Roll-out to other BAE sites is planned in 2014.

January 2014: Laser cuts a way to the stars

Research from the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS) at Heriot-Watt, has the potential to revolutionise how we observe the universe using telescopes, with a new approach that exploits ultrashort pulses of laser light to manufacture optical circuits called ‘photonic lanterns’.

Dr Robert Thomson, an expert in ultrafast laser inscription from the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS) at Heriot-Watt University, has developed a new device technology for future telescopes, such as the proposed €1 billion European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which may facilitate more efficient analysis of the celestial light captured, enabling them to produce more scientific information.

Thomson’s devices are fabricated using ultrashort laser pulses, each only about 1 million millionth of a second long. He uses these pulses to inscribe laser modified ‘tracks’ into a substrate material which then act as optical circuits called ‘photonic lanterns’, and guide photons (particles of light) in much the same way as electronic circuits guide electrons. Dr Thomson said “Since its invention some 400 years ago, the telescope has become larger and more precise, but its basic design principles have essentially remained the same. Developing new instrument concepts for large-scale telescopes and space-based instruments can be achieved using photonic technologies which, put simply, are the optical equivalent of electronics and enable the flow of light to be precisely controlled and shaped.

“Compared to the traditional optics used in telescopes, such as mirrors and lenses, photonic technologies have the potential to be more efficient and reduce costs. With just one night on a world-leading telescope costing tens of thousands of pounds, it is essential that the instruments on the telescope deliver the maximum scientific output. This is where ‘astrophotonics’ may have the edge over conventional optical technologies.

“By reducing the amount of light that is ‘lost’, and by more efficiently controlling the light that is collected, photonic devices may help increase what can be observed on a telescope, meaning we should be able to learn more about the nature of the universe around us.”

The devices also have more earthly applications, and the technology is already been commercialised for next-generation data communications by Optoscribe Ltd, a spin-out from Heriot-Watt, co-founded by Thomson and his colleagues.

Dr Thomson’s research is funded by the European Union and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).


January 2014: First Minister Alex Salmond visited the newly-launched Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes

First Minister Alex Salmond visited the newly-launched Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes, a 5 university collaboration led by Professor Duncan Hand of Heriot-Watt.  The First Minister was briefed by Duncan, and met with a number of Research Associates and PhD students associated with the Centre  He saw at first hand a range of the Centre’s facilities and manufacturing applications, and showed particular interest in the research being carried out using high average power ultra-short pulsed lasers; also in the strong industrial engagement demonstrated by the Centre.

January 2014: New lasers that could help find smaller planets

A team of Heriot-Watt scientists is developing a new kind of laser that could help astronomers to find small, ‘Earth-like’ planets outside our solar system or detect the presence of hazardous chemicals at a safe distance. The team is working as part of an international consortium that’s secured €2m to develop optical parametric oscillator (OPO) frequency comb lasers which will deliver a far greater degree of accuracy than has been previously possible.

Frequency comb laser

Known as a 'frequency comb’ laser, because its output in frequency can be thought of as a pattern of closely spaced comb teeth, the new laser operates in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum which conventional frequency-comb lasers cannot, making it particularly useful for applications such as infrared gas sensing, metrology and spectroscopy. OPO lasers offer enormous opportunities for exploitation in metrology (measurement) and broad spectrum detection, in instruments ranging from telescopes to hyperspectral imagers. Now the Heriot-Watt team, which invented the femtosecond OPO comb technology at the core of the international Metrocomb project, will work with colleagues in other universities to explore new ways of making OPO frequency comb lasers operate in a more versatile, more reliable and user-friendly way.

Using OPOs in astronomy

One application for the new laser will be in astronomy and the hunt for planets orbiting stars outside our solar system.While larger planets (Jupiter sized and above) can now be detected and measured quite easily with precision spectrographs, astronomers looking for smaller 'Earth-like' stars need more sensitive techniques which the new laser will facilitate.

The Heriot-Watt team has this month secured additional funding of £250,000 from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to develop frequency combs for astronomy. Speaking about the work Professor Derryck Reid, Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University, said, “The new laser we are developing will offer unprecedented detection sensitivity and measurement accuracy. “It has the potential to transform spectroscopy in the 'molecular fingerprint' region, to deliver real-time imaging with molecular identification, trace chemical detection and medical breath analysis. It also has particularly exciting applications in astronomy which we are delighted to have secured further funding to explore.”

December 2013:World’s first International Max-Planck Partnership launched by Scots universities

The world’s first International Max-Planck Partnership (IMPP) was launched by five Scottish universities on 19th December 2013.  The Scottish Universities of Heriot-Watt, Glasgow, Strathclyde, St Andrews and Edinburgh have partnered with the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) Hannover; the MPI for the Science of Light, Erlangen; the MPI for Quantum Optics, Garching; the MPI for Chemical Physics, Dresden; and the MPI for Solid State Physics, Stuttgart.

The initiative will significantly strengthen research links between Scotland and Germany – and enhance Scotland’s reputation as a world leader in fundamental, or ‘discovery’, science that forms the foundations of emerging and future technologies. The IMPP will specifically support research around the theme of ‘Measurement and Observation at the Quantum Limit’ (MOQL), which has relevance for a variety of new and emerging hi-tech industry sectors including metrology, cyber-security and quantum information processing. IPaQS already has a number of academics with strong research links to these Max Planck Institutes and we envisage many more links developing over the next five years as Partnership evolves.

By facilitating research collaborations and knowledge exchange between leading domestic and international institutes, Scotland is now in a position to establish itself as an international hub for the discovery and exploitation of cutting-edge science and technology – and a magnet for the world’s best researchers in the field.

The IMPP Partnership is supported by funding from the Scottish Funding Council, and a joint grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Science & Technology Facilities Council. The Scottish universities involved will also contribute to the initial funding package of up to £10million over five years.

See the BBC report of the IMPP: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-25447334


November 2013: Novel fibres hold promise for laser surgery

Laser beam delivery using novel optical fibres at Heriot-Watt University

Fibre surgery probe tip.

IPaQS researchers report development of fibre optic based beam delivery for surgical applications.

Work by led Dr Jonathan Shephard in the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences at Heriot-Watt University and collaborators at the University of Bath has been highlighted in an article “Moving Past the Articulated Arm” in the latest edition of Biophotonics.

Under an EPSRC funded project they have developed novel hollow core fibres which have excellent power handling capability whilst being small in diameter and highly flexible in comparison to existing technologies used to deliver surgical lasers such as articulated arms. Using these fibres Artur Urich, a researcher in the High Power Laser Applications group at Heriot-Watt, has produced a flexible “laser scalpel” demonstrating the potential of these fibres to improve the usability of surgical lasers in minimally invasive procedures.

They are now working with clinicians to develop novel procedures to address particular medical conditions where restricted access inhibits traditional surgical techniques.

For more information please contact Dr Jon Shephard.

November 2013: EPSRC announces funding for a new Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics

On Friday 22 November the EPSRC and cabinet minister David Willetts announced 72 new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) across the UK, including the Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics led by Heriot-Watt University. Delivered in partnership with the Universities of St Andrews, Strathclyde, Glasgow and Dundee, this CDT combines taught courses in photonics and electronics along with MBA business modules to produce graduates with an understanding of photonic-electronic-engineering design, fabrication and systems integration, together with high-level business, management and communication skills. The emphasis of the new Centre reflects the fact that photonics and electronics are highly integrated across a multitude of modern devices and systems.

Twenty-three industrial partners have committed to sponsoring 50 EngD and a further15 PhD places aligned to the Centre. Their cash contributions and those of the EPSRC and the university partners combine to make the total value of the Centre £8.9M, not including an estimated £7M of further in-kind support.

For further information please contact the Centre Director, Prof. Derryck T. Reid.


April 2013: New camera system creates high-resolution 3-D images from up to a kilometre away

A team of Heriot-Watt physicists has advanced laser technology so that high-resolution, 3-D images precise to the millimetre can be taken from up to a kilometre away.

While a standard camera takes flat, 2-D pictures the team obtains 3-D information, such as the distance to a far-away object, by bouncing a laser beam off the object and measuring how long it takes the light to travel back to a detector. The technique, called time-of-flight (ToF), is already used in machine vision navigation systems for autonomous vehicles and other applications, but many current ToF systems have a relatively short range and struggle to image certain objects.

Ultimately it has the potential to scan and image objects located as far as 10 kilometre away

Dr Aongus McCarthy

Led by Professor Gerald Buller from the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the Heriot-Watt team has developed a new system that captures laser pulses from ‘uncooperative’ objects that do not easily reflect laser pulses, such as fabric, making it useful in a wide variety of field situations. The new system works by sweeping a low-power infrared laser beam rapidly over an object. It then records, pixel-by-pixel, the round-trip flight time of the photons in the beam as they bounce off the object and arrive back at the source. The system can resolve depth on the millimetre scale over long distances using a detector that can ‘count’ individual photons. The primary use of the system is likely to be scanning static, human-made objects, such as vehicles. With some modifications to the image-processing software, it could also determine their speed and direction.

Dr Aongus McCarthy, Research Fellow at Heriot-Watt University said “Our approach gives a low-power route to the depth imaging of ordinary, small targets at very long range. “While it is possible that other depth-ranging techniques will match or out-perform some characteristics of these measurements, this single-photon counting approach gives a unique trade-off between depth resolution, range, data-acquisition time and laser-power levels.”

The scanner is particularly good at identifying objects hidden behind clutter, such as foliage. However, it cannot render human faces, instead drawing them as dark, featureless areas as, at the long wavelength used by the system, human skin does not bounce back a large enough number of transmitted photons to obtain a depth measurement.

The light the team has chosen has a wavelength of 1,560 nanometres, longer, or ’redder’, than visible light, and thus it travels more easily through the atmosphere, is not drowned out by sunlight, and is safe for eyes. Many previous ToF systems could not detect the extra-long wavelengths that the team's device is specially designed to sense. Outside of object identification, photon-counting depth imaging could be used for a number of scientific purposes, including the remote examination of the health and volume of vegetation and the movement of rock faces, to assess potential hazards.

Ultimately, McCarthy says, it has the potential to scan and image objects located as far as 10 kilometre away. “It is clear that the system would have to be miniaturised and made more rugged, but we believe that a lightweight, fully portable scanning depth imager is possible and could be a product in less than five years.”

For more information please contact the head of institute Prof. Gerald Buller.

March 2013: Heriot-Watt University leads EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes

A new £12m national centre, led by Heriot-Watt University, will develop new ways of using lasers in manufacturing, enabling industry to take advantage of the latest innovations and developments in this rapidly growing field.

Laser-based manufacturing is a global multi-billion dollar industry with significant business opportunities. The past 25 years have seen industrial lasers replace many 'conventional' tools in many diverse areas of modern manufacture, enabling increased productivity, functionality and quality.

The Heriot-Watt University-based EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes, supported by £5.6m of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and £4.8m from UK manufacturing industry and involving other key UK research centres and industrial partners, will open the door to a diverse range of new laser-based production processes and technologies, helping UK industry to take maximum advantage of these major advances by bringing together a multi-disciplinary team of leading UK researchers and key industry partners.

A major goal of the new Centre is to double the use of lasers in UK manufacturing industry in the next five years.

Prof. Duncan Hand

The Centre's team of leading academics and UK industry partners will run a wide-ranging programme of coordinated research and network building which will enable significant business growth opportunities, stimulate the broader UK community, provide leadership in developing public policy, infrastructure access for SMEs, and education and training for the industry.

Professor Duncan Hand, Director of the new Centre, said, "Lasers have a major role in high value production, and are essential tools for a developed economy such as the UK to successfully compete on the world manufacturing stage. Laser processes provide high quality, high precision readily-automated manufacturing solutions, with excellent repeatability whilst retaining a high degree of flexibility, which allows mass customisation and design modifications."

EPSRC’s Chief Executive, Professor David Delpy said, “EPSRC Centres of Innovative Manufacturing are building on previous investments we have made in the research base and combining academic innovation with industry knowledge. These new centres are in areas that are strategically important to the UK and the work there will push research boundaries and drive growth."

For more information please contact Prof. Duncan Hand.

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