X Chen

Assistant Professor

+44 (0)131 451 3802
Room G.04
David Brewster Building
Heriot-Watt University

Dr Chen’s research is dedicated to the nanoscale light-matter interactions and their applications in photonics, imaging, sensing, energy and others. Artificial nanostructures can have unusual optical properties that may not be found in nature or their constituent components, thus providing more degrees of freedom to control light waves. His research enables the discovery of new phenomena and the development of novel prototype devices (e.g, metalenses, nano-holograms, multifunctional optical devices), which are essential for future technologies. He frequently collaborates with other research groups and industrial end-users to expand his knowledge of the application domain.  Dr Chen leads the Experimental Nanophotonics research group.


His current research interests include nanophotonics, metamaterials, metasurfaces, plasmonics, ultrathin nanodevices, and low-cost nanofabrication for energy harvesting and biomedical applications.

His main contributions to this field include design and demonstration of  high-resolution grayscale image hidden in a laser beam (Light: Science & Applications in press), multichannel polarization-controllable superpositions of orbital angular momentum states (Advanced Materials 2017), helicity multiplexed broadband metasurface hologram (Nature Communications 2015), 3D optical holography using a metasurface (Nature Communications 2013), first dual-polarity ultra-thin metalens (Nature Communications 2012), broadband vortex beam generator (Nano Letters 2012), helicity dependent directional surface plasmon polariton excitation (Light: Science & Applications 2013) and the first optical invisibility cloak of macroscopic size (Nature Communications 2011).

Selected publications


  1. F. Yue, C. Zhang, X. Zang, D. Wen, B.D. Gerardot, S. Zhang, X. Chen, High-resolution grayscale image hidden in a laser beam, Light: Science & Applications, in press.
  2. F. Yue, D. Wen, C. Zhang, B.D. Gerardot, W. Wang, S. Zhang, X. Chen, Multichannel polarization-controllable superpositions of orbital angular momentum states, Advanced Materials, 29, 1603838 (2017).

    Media coverage:

    Nanorod structures for multichannel superpositions of orbital angular momentum states

  3. D. Wen, F. Yue, G. Li, G. Zheng, K. Chan, S. Chen, M. Chen, K. F. Li, P. W. H. Wong, K. W. Cheah, E. Y. B. Pun, S. Zhang, X. Chen, ''Helicity multiplexed broadband metasurface holograms'', Nature Communications, 6, 8241 (2015).

    Media coverage:

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

  4. L. Huang, X. Chen, H. Mühlenbernd, H. Zhang, S. Chen, B. Bai, Q. Tan, G. Jin, K.-W. Cheah, C.-W. Qiu, J. Li, T. Zentgraf & S. Zhang, “Three-Dimensional Optical Holography Using a Plasmonic Metasurface”, Nature Communication, 4, 2808 (2013).

  5. L. Huang, X. Chen, B. Bai, Q. Tan, G. Jin, T. Zentgraf & S. Zhang, "Helicity Dependent Directional Surface Plasmon Polariton Excitation Using a Metasurface with Interfacial Phase Discontinuity", Light: Science & Applications, 2, e70 (2013).

    Media coverage:

    Physics World: New material points quasiparticles in the right direction

    Nanotechweb: Metasurface couples SPPs and light

    Pan European Networks: Light and SPPs coupled in metasurface   

  6. X. Chen, L. Huang, H. Mühlenbernd, G. X. Li, B. Bai, Q. Tan, G. Jin, C. W. Qiu, S. Zhang, and T. Zentgraf, “Dual-polarity plasmonic metalens for visible light”, Nature Communications, 3, 1198 (2012).

    Media coverage:

    Nanotechweb.org: Metalens doubles up

    Phys.org: Scientists design new lens with convex and concave functionality, potential to revolutionize optical devices  


  7. L. Huang, X. Chen, H. Mühlenbernd , G. Li , B. Bai , Q. Tan , G. Jin , T. Zentgraf , and S. Zhang, "Dispersionless Phase Discontinuities for Controlling Light Propagation", Nano Letters, 12, 5750 (2012) http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl303031j  
  8. X. Chen, Y. Luo, J. Zhang, K. Jiang, J. B. Pendry and S. Zhang, “Macroscopic Invisibility Cloaking of Visible Light”, Nature Communications, 2, 176 (2011). http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v2/n2/full/ncomms1176.html  

    Media coverage:

    Physics World: Physics world reveals its top 10 breakthroughs for 2010

    Discover Magazine: Top 100 stories of 2011

    BBC News: Invisibility cloaking benefits from crystal – clear idea

    USA Today: Physics team: We are getting closer to an invisibility cloak

    Guardian: Do you want an invisibility cloak like Harry Potter’s? Here it is.


Dr Xianzhong Chen joined Heriot-Watt University as an assistant professor in August 2013. He received his MSc (2001) and PhD (2004) from the Institute of Optics & Electronics, Chinese Academy of Sciences and subsequently worked there for two years first as research assistant professor and then a research associate professor. Prior to joining Heriot-Watt University (HWU), he was a research fellow (2007-2013) at University of Birmingham. He established the Experimental Nanophotonics Research Group at HWU. Much of his work has been in the fields of optical metamaterials and nanophotonics. With the EPSRC grants (EP/M003175/1, EP/I023186/1 and EP/P029892/1), his research mainly focuses on light-matter interactions at the nanoscale and their applications in ultrathin optical devices with unusual functionalities. Nanophotonics is an interdisciplinary research area that bridges nanoscience, optics, physics and engineering. Supported by EPSRC IAA grant, Renishaw-Heriot Watt Alliance grant and CDTAP – Holoxica grant, he collaborates with a range of companies (e.g., Renishaw, Holoxica and SwissLitho AG) to explore the commercial applications of nanomaterials and nanodevices.

He has published over 50 research papers in journals including Nature Communications, Light: Science & Applications, Nano Letters and Advanced Materials. He was the winner of the Innovation Award for Young Researchers in the Institute of Optics & Electronics in 2005 and Contribution Point Award at Heriot-Watt University in 2016. His work on macroscopic invisibility cloaking of visible light was selected as one of the "Top 10 Breakthroughs for 2010" by Physics World, "Top 100 Stories in 2011" by Discover Magazine, and received wide media coverage including BBC News, Telegraph, Channel 4, ITV, Guardian, Fox News, USA Today and MSNBC.  He is a reviewer for Royal Academy of Engineering program, EPSRC program and Chang Jiang Scholars program. He was the organiser and co-chair of the special session "Metasurface and its application in optical devices" at META'16 in Spain (2016).