Gravitational and quantum field theory analogues in nonlinear optics

The School of Engineering & Physical Sciences (EPS) at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh (Scotland), in cooperation with the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (Germany), offers excellent conditions for PhD training in many areas of experimental and theoretical physics. The formal partnership between the Max Planck Institutes and the Scottish Universities, called IMPP, allows ambitious and capable individuals to be selected for PhD studentships on advanced topics at the cutting edge of science. See the following website for more information:

Quantum field theory and general relativity are two disciplines that are very well-developed and studied in Physics. Some of the most important results that in recent decades these two areas of Physics have produced include Unruh’s and Hawking’s radiation, the Casimir force, the Higgs mechanism of spontaneous symmetry breaking, the physics of black holes and the Big Bang cosmology.

Even though optics and nonlinear optics seem to be completely uncorrelated with the above fields, in recent times researchers have found a number of extremely interesting optical analogies of the above phenomena. For instance, intense and short pulses in a nonlinear medium can closely mimic the physics of black holes and spaces with curvature, and this allows researchers to study the properties of astrophysical object in an optical laboratory. Other examples include the so-called waveguide arrays, i.e. ensembles of optical waveguides which can give the same physics of the Dirac equation, including particle-antiparticle generation, Klein paradox, Zitterbewegung, etc.

The aim of this project is to develop to the full the above analogies, with the aim of discovering new phenomena in nonlinear optics. This will allow our experimental partners to apply this knowledge and construct devices of new generation that are able to control light at a new level. Applications of the successful completion of this theoretical programme include, but are not limited to: supercontinuum generation (i.e. the explosive generation of many frequencies inside an optical medium), soliton physics and four-wave mixing.

Please send inquiry emails to Dr. Fabio Biancalana at