Category Archives: News

ICO prize extension and newsletter

The most recent issue of the International Commission for Optics (ICO) Newsletter has been published on the official ICO website and it can be downloaded here.

Also, the deadline for presenting candidates to the ICO prize has been extended till June 15th. More information can be found here.

Note also that the next General Assembly of the ICO will take place during the ICO-25/OWLS-16 Worldwide Congress that will be celebrating Dresden (Germany) 5-9 next September.

For more details on the Dresden meeting please contact Frederique Vanholsbeeck at [email protected]

Congratulations to Samuel Esan!

Optica Foundation recently awarded Ayomikun (Sam) Esan, one of our PhD students in Auckland, the inaugural Amplify Scholarship for Black Scholars in order to support the growth of a global network of Black scientists in optics and photonics. Amongst a pool of candidates from over 20 countries, Sam was among the 15 students chosen for this award. The scholarship award received support from Thorlabs, Meta, Federico Capasso, Harvard University; Corning Incorporated, IPG Photonics Corporation, and other contributors.

Congratulations Sam!

Our New Mural


Science engagement through street art is a fairly common phenomenon around Dunedin, if you’re talking about natural sciences. Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins), karearea (NZ falcon), kea, rāpoka (sea lions), toroa (albatross) and more dot walls, bus shelters, and various other flat surfaces around the city.

But on the 31st of January this year, the Dodd-Walls Centre, the Dunedin Street Art Trust, and Otago Museum presented Aotearoa New Zealand with its first ever mural where street art meets photonics.

The nation’s first ever light-reactive mural was produced by local artist Bruce Mahalski and has been in the works for over three years. Like other street art around the city, this piece also features tāoka species… but only ones associated with night.

The flower in the foreground is Te Pua o te Rēinga or Waewae Atua (depending on iwi affiliation). It is the only fully parasitic flowering plant endemic to New Zealand. Also known as a wood rose or Dactylanthus taylorii, it was previously pollinated at night by pekapeka – the NZ lesser short-tailed bats – who fed on their nectar. However, the plant is now listed as nationally vulnerable, as it is susceptible to browsing by introduced predators, who also threaten its natural pollinators.

Bruce’s original proposal thus also included a rendering of the pekapeka in flight above the flower. However, with the advent of Covid-19 in 2020, the owners of the site expressed concern about lingering negative connotations the public might associate with bats… if only they could foresee New Zealanders electing one as Te Manu Rongonui o Te Tau/Bird of the Year before the mural was even complete!

So the pekapeka was swapped for a ruru, our native owls. Flying alongside it are several examples of NZ lepidoptera – butterflies and moths, while on the ground next to the flower is a weta – all of which make for a tasty kai for the ruru.

The background scenery evokes Hereweka or Harbour Cone on the Otago peninsula on a cloudless night near a full moon. Te Ikaroa, or the Milky Way, crosses the sky. It is a lovely mural by day.

And at night the mural takes on a special effect, as the near-UV lights installed specifically for this project come on and excite the electrons in the special paint that Bruce used to highlight various aspects of this scene. To Centre members, this effect is well known and understood but to the average passer-by, perhaps waiting at the Dunedin central bus hub for their ride home, it presents an opportunity to engage with photonics in a context and in a location that is unexpected, and delightful.

If you find yourself in the area, particularly this winter, when it gets dark at a more reasonable hour, be sure to take the opportunity to check it out and use it to start a conversation – because science outreach and engagement can happen anywhere!

Hopefully the mural will be added to Dunedin’s street art tours that run at Orange – 

Jessa Barder

Postdoctoral Fellow in Theoretical Quantum Physics

A Postdoctoral Research Fellow position in Theoretical Quantum Physics is available in the Dodd-Walls Centre at the Department of Physics. The position is in the group of the Centre’s Director, Professor David Hutchinson, and will support the research programme of the group.

Applications will close on Thursday 27 January 2022. To apply please follow the link below to submit your application (with CV and cover letter).

Paper in Science

Today a paper appeared in Science co-authored by Amita and Niels. In this paper they report on beautiful experiments conducted in their lab on the 3rd floor in which they demonstrate a novel effect predicted 30 years ago.

One interpretation of their work is that that they were able to make some atoms go invisible! More accurately, they were able to demonstrate a suppression in light scattering from a gas due to fermionic quantum statistics.

There are already nice writeups appearing in Physics World and New Scientist, which also discuss two other experiments (from MIT and JILA-CU Boulder) that were published jointly with the Otago work.

Pauli blocking is spotted in ultracold fermionic gases

Marsden Fund Successes

Congratulations to Dodd-Walls members who secured funding in this year’s Marsden Fund round! These include:

Frederique Vanholsbeeck, “Force and light to understand the structure–function relationship of soft tissue at the microscale”.

Vincent Ng, “Ultra-Broadband Microresonator Dual-Combs in Photonic Belt Resonators”,

Maarten Hoogerland, “Photons on demand: dial-up your number”,

Jorg Frauendiener who was an AI on the Marsden Fund Council Award led by Renate Meyer on deciphering gravitational waves.

And Roger Reeves who was an AI on “Thinking outside the square! Discovering the design rules for a new class of highly-functional nanomaterials”.

Congratulations also to DWC Board Member, Jim Metson, who was an AI.

Also to Scott Parkins who is Co-PI on Maarten Hoogerland’s grant: ‘Photons on demand: dial-up your number’.

Cushla McGoverin who is AI on Fred Vanholsbeeck’ s Marsden grant: ‘Force and light to understand the structure–function relationship of soft tissue at the microscale’.

and Hinke Osinga who is also AI for the Beyond survival of the fittest: ‘Population dynamics of cyclic competition networks’.

Finally, thank you to everyone who put in an application whether successful or not. We acknowledge the amount of work involved and the disappointment when not funded.

Alex Risos and team from RisosEnterprises Ltd wins Velocity Challenge

Click here to read original story published at Auckland University

21 October 2021



“Knowledge is always the very first step for improvements” – Alex Risos, Founder and CEO of RisosEnterprises Ltd. – Future of rapid waterborne E. coli water detection is coming!

A new generation of start-up founders has been released into the world with the completion of the University of Auckland’s 2021 Velocity entrepreneurship development programme.

Winners of its business planning competition, the Velocity $100k Challenge, were announced via an online Grand Final event. The guest speaker for the evening was Sir Ian Taylor (Ngāti Kahungunu), founder of leading Computer Graphics production house Animation Research Ltd, 2019 New Zealand Innovator of the Year, and 2020 Deloitte 200 Visionary Leader of the Year.

The Velocity $100k Challenge is New Zealand’s leading student-led entrepreneurship competition, supported by the University of Auckland Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). Now in its 18th year, Velocity has ignited more than 164 ventures, created 950 jobs and Velocity ventures have raised more than $306 million in capital.

From 90 initial entries into the $100k Challenge, 15 teams were selected to continue and given the privilege to participate in Velocity’s LaunchPad entrepreneurship professional development programme where they received mentorship and finalised their business plan and pitch to compete for five ultimate prizes. Each winner receives a share of the $100,000 prize pool, including sponsorship of a place in the University of Auckland’s 6-month VentureLab incubator, which will begin in February.

CIE Director Darsel Keane says “Velocity is an internationally renowned programme and past participants of Velocity and VentureLab have described these programmes as life-changing. It can also be world-changing. We’ve seen past brilliant student and staff participants develop ground-breaking solutions in EdTech, AgTech, MedTech, social entrepreneurship and more. Velocity isn’t just about the winners though. Many thriving ventures have been developed by past Velocity participants who did not place in the finals, or participants have taken the entrepreneurial mindset they have developed and built careers leading innovation in existing industries. We hope all our Velocity participants will take the energy, courage and insight they have demonstrated while at university to pursue whatever makes them happiest in life”.

2021 Velocity $100k Challenge winners

RisosEnterprises – Waterborne E. coli testing is a monumental effort, prohibitively expensive and takes days to yield results. Eighty percent of New Zealanders are not only unhappy with environmental water but especially with their drinking water. RisosEnterprises is working on technology that is much faster and more accurate than any existing water testing instrumentation to date. This cuts down testing costs and reaction times to critically enable widespread testing for effective countermeasures. RisosEnterprises are creating the Waicorder (TM), a star-trek inspired water tricorder that everyone can use to sense water quality anywhere, anytime. Communities will benefit from a healthier environment and drinkable water, while private industry cuts down on production losses, especially beverage manufacturers.

PrintGig – PrintGig is passionate about creating a world where 3D printing is integrated into everyone’s daily lives and makers can make money doing what they love. PrintGig will achieve this by connecting experienced freelancers with consumers who want easily accessible and affordable 3D printing services.

Fistbump – Fistbump is a friendship service designed to help users meet like-minded people, hang out and make genuine friends. So far, Fistbump has over 300 users and has helped make over 80 friendships (in just two small launches). Fistbump is a purely platonic app that matches based on interests and personality. Users can match and chat anonymously and decide if they want to be friends. Fistbump is now expanding into coffee hangouts, events, and gamification.

Supercarbon – Supercarbon is a ground-breaking technology with sustained antimicrobial and antiviral properties and multiple applications, including electroceutical wound dressings, antiviral and antibacterial face masks, anti-pathogen air filters, and anti-ageing beauty facial devices. Supercarbon’s lead product, the HealectricCarbon wound dressing, uses microcurrents to accelerate healing in chronic and acute wounds and prevent infection. It can significantly improve patient outcomes whilst markedly decreasing healthcare costs.

Delta Waterways – Delta Waterways’ product, driven by the latest in satellite imaging and machine learning technology, significantly enhances the frequency, resolution, coverage, and accessibility of environmental monitoring data. It represents a radical paradigm shift in the monitoring of freshwater and enables a much better understanding of environmental degradation, informing policy, and driving positive change.

Acknowlegment and thanks to: The Photon Factory, Cather Simpson and MBIE

View the $100k Challenge Grand Finals programme

MBIE Grant Success for Sciences

Congratulations to the three research projects based in Geology and Physics that secured funding from the MBIE Endeavour fund and announced this week. Altogether nine Otago scientific research projects received more than $16 million, and of this Geology’s Associate Professor Chris Moy (pictured below left) secured $8.6M to explore the future potential of Fiordland’s fjords as a natural carbon storage sink. This multi-disciplinary project will be a collaboration between Ngāi Tahu, Fiordland Marine Guardians, and a team of NZ and international scientists who will explore the fjords future carbon storage potential in the face of changing fjord circulation patterns driven by generation from the Manapouri Power Station as well as climate.

Geology’s Professor Claudine Stirling (pictured below middle) has also received $1M for developing an environmental toolkit for tracing historic, current-use and emerging heavy metal pollutants which will help protect NZ’s vulnerable ecosystems, and improve sustainability of major primary-sector export industries.

Associate Professor Harald Schwefel in Physics received $1M for research into the development of space-ready radiometers, that use light to detect thermal radiation, for monitoring climate and green-house gases.

Associate Professor Frédérique Vanholsbeeck has been awarded the 2020 Hill Tinsley Medal

Associate Professor Frédérique Vanholsbeeck has been awarded the 2020 Hill Tinsley Medal by the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS). The Hill Tinsley Medal is awarded for outstanding fundamental or applied research in the physical, natural or social sciences published by a scientist or scientists within 15 years of their PhD.

The citation can be found here:


Thesis submission from Magdalena Urbanska

DWC PhD student Magdalena Urbanska submitted her thesis on Optical Coherence Elastography of the Vitreous Humour recently. Vitreous humour is the gelatinous substance inside the human eye that is very difficult to assess due to its location and near-transparent properties. Most methods extract the vitreous humour to measure its properties, however, extraction can affect the collagen network thereby changing vitreous humour mechanical properties. Magda developed a method for all-optical mechanical spectroscopy of the vitreous humour. This method may one day allow the effect of different eye diseases on the vitreous humour to be assessed non-destructively.

Magda is currently working as a research assistant in Frederique Vanholsbeeck’s laboratory while she waits on the referees comments on her PhD thesis.

Paper published in Nature Communications

Dodd-Walls Centre would like to congratulate member Dr Boyang Ding for getting their paper “Bandgap control in two-dimensional semiconductors via coherent doping of plasmonic hot electrons” scheduled for publication in Nature Communications on the 15th July 2021. Dr Ding and Prof. Min Qiu (Westlake Uni. China) being corresponding authors.

This work has been partly funded by DWC’s New Ideas grant and involved many DWC members, e.g. Yu-Hui Chen (known as Stephen, former DWC member), Dr. Kai Chen and Prof. Hodgkiss’ group in VUW (DWC member) and Prof. Richard Blaikie (DWC member).

Once the paper is published, it will be available to view online at

New Zealand International Science Festival 2021

The Dodd-Walls Centre is taking part in three events at the New Zealand International Science Festival 2021


Quantum Shorts Film Festival Screening

Catch the top ten quantum-inspired short films from the 2021 Quantum Shorts Film Festival in the most immersive theatre in Dunedin!


Otago Museum and the Dodd-Walls Centre are bringing you the weird, wonderful, and stranger-than-fiction side of science with this screening of the finalists in the global Quantum Shorts Film Competition. These ’quantum-inspired stories’ are no more than five minutes in length and range from live-action to puppeteering, from dad-jokes to emotionally dramatic.


5.30pm – 7.30pm, Monday 12 July

Otago Museum

Planetarium and Beautiful Science Gallery

FREE, booking essential


Space Lasers!

Can you tell how far away the Moon is by shining a laser at it? NASA did just that as part of the Apollo moon programme! Come learn about lasers and optics and how we can use the unique nature of light to advance our understanding of the sun, the moon, the stars – including understanding the size of the whole universe and how far away everything within it is from us.


This activity is included as part of the Our Moon exhibition. The ticketing link on this page will take you to the Our Moon ticketing website. For more information about the Our Moon exhibition, click the link in the related events section below.


Children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult. Children under the age of 2 are free.

11am – 4pm, Tuesday 13 July 2021 to Sunday 18 July 2021

Hanover Hall

65 Hanover Street

Dunedin Central


Book tickets


Quantum Cryptography via Satellite

As privacy concerns mount in the modern era, quantum physics leads the way in new encryption methods – learn how quantum key distribution works, compare it to other types of key-based encryption methods, and find out what happens when someone tries to “eavesdrop” on photon-based communication!


This activity is included as part of the Our Moon exhibition. The ticketing link on this page will take you to the Our Moon ticketing website.


Children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult. Children under the age of 2 are free.

11am – 4pm, Tuesday 13 July 2021 to Sunday 18 July 2021

Hanover Hall

65 Hanover Street

Dunedin Central


Marsden Funding for DWC researchers

The Marsden Fund takes its name from physicist Sir Ernest Marsden (1889-1970) who made a remarkable contribution to science both in New Zealand and overseas. It is a blue skies research fund which is administered by the Royal Society/Te Apārangi. The research funded by this Fund is not subject to government’s socio-economic priorities, but is investigator initiated. The Fund supports research excellence in science, engineering and maths, social sciences and the humanities.

Competition for grants is intense, as such, Marsden is regarded as the hallmark of excellence for research in New Zealand. The Centre is thrilled to congratulate DWC researchers who have received funding in the 2020 round (for projects they are leading):

Full Marsden (Principle Investigators):
Joachim Brand – “Three atoms in a tight spot”
Miro Erkintalo – “Normal in nothing but the name: a new regime of temporal cavity solitons”
Harald Schwefel – “Dual-comb spectroscopy – resolving optical precision electronically”

Marsen Fast Start (Principle Investigators):
Laura Cobus – “Acoustic Imaging of Movement (AIM): from human tissue to underwater sensing”
Jami Shepherd – “Using light and ultrasound for quantification of hemodynamics in bone”
Dominik Vogt – “Sub-wavelength ultra-high quality Terahertz resonators for next-generation sensing technologies”
Ray Xu – “Visible frequency comb generation with fibre-based microresonators”

List of AIs (Full & Fast Start):
Mikkel Andersen, Stéphane Coen, Miro Erkintalo, Stuart Murdoch, Harald Schwefel

Further information on the projects that these researchers are involved in may be found on the Marsden Fund webpage:

DWC on RNZ Smart Talk

Listen to RNZ’s episode of Smart Talk where three experts discuss the role of photonics in measuring climate change. The  discussion was recorded as part of this years Dodd-Walls symposium.

The discussion was moderated by Kim Hill with the panel consisting of Professors Donna Stickland, Tom Baer and David Hutchinson. Donna won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2018 for her groundbreaking work in the generation of high-intensity, ultra-short laser pulses. Tom Baer is also a laser physicist and is the Executive Director of the Stanford Photonics Research Centre. David Hutchinson is a New Zealand quantum physicist and Director of the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies—one of NZ’s ten Centres of Research Excellence.

Donna and Tom were together instrumental in the establishment of the Global Environmental Measurement and Monitoring (GEMM) Network, with a node now established in New Zealand supported by the Dodd-Walls Centre.

The discussion will cover the role of the GEMM Network and what part New Zealand can play in it, but also follow Kim Hill’s free-ranging style to cover aspects of Donna’s career and other elements of interest along the way.

Successful Dodd-Walls Symposium!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this years Dodd-Walls symposium, highlighting the cutting-edge research on photonic and quantum technologies happening in New Zealand.

In particular huge thanks to our invited speakers, who reflected on the ongoing legacies of Dan Walls and Jack Dodd through their own transformative research.

Looking forward to seeing you all again next year.
Finally, we would like to acknowledge our sponsors for their support.

2020 virtual Dodd-Walls Symposium up next week

This years Dodd-Walls Symposium will be held on the 20-22 of October.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation this years symposium will be held virtually with local hubs airing selected talks and hosting social events. We look forward to hearing everyone’s latest results and connecting virtually.

Find out what is going on at the conference website:


Paint powering your home? Coming to a roof near you!

Solar paint – which captures and guides light to strips of solar panels in roof gutters – is fast becoming a reality thanks to Dodd-Walls Centre’s Associate Investigator Dr Nathaniel Davies.

Estimated to be up to 160 times less the cost of current solar panels, Dr Davis’ technology has the potential turn every roof in New Zealand into a solar panel, massively reducing power bills and dependencies on the main grid for supply.

“You paint directly on top of the roof and then you put solar panels in your guttering. The paint will guide the light into the edge of your guttering system, then it’d be a single coat of paint and a little insulation of solar panels along the edge” says Dr Davis.

Dr Paul Geraghty, Commercialisation Manager from Wellington UniVentures (the technology transfer arm of Victoria University), works with Dr Davis and is excited about the potential of this project. “This is really interesting technology which could lead to the wider adoption of solar power, and a range of new applications as well.”

Dr Davis’ research has received significant support from academia, government, and industry. This includes support from Dodd-Walls Centre and The MacDiarmid Institute (both Centres of Research Excellence), the Marsden Fund, National Science Challenge Science for Technological Innovation, Return on Science Investment Committees, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), notably through Endeavour Funding Round in 2019.

Dr Davis was just one of several successes from Dodd-Walls Centre researchers in last year’s MBIE Endeavour funding round. Other investigators funded were:

  • Sara Miller: Diagnosis by light: An endoscopic probe for biopsy-free diagnosis of gastrointestinal disease.
  • Amita Deb: Contact-free sensing of high voltages using a laser electrometer.
  • Cather Simpson: Drinking-water pathogen monitoring in real-time.

“The Dodd-Walls Centre is delighted to promote and support early career researchers like Dr Davis”, says David Hutchinson, Director of the Dodd-Walls Centre, “especially when their ideas have such huge potential for commercial impact in NZ, and the global importance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through carbon-free energy.”

The Dodd-Walls Centre investigators are preparing for the 2021 round of MBIE Endeavour Funding now and welcome and support industry engagement to co-create ideas and value.

For further information please contact [email protected]; [email protected]; or [email protected]

Photonics industry in NZ has a bright billion dollar future

A new report has valued New Zealand’s little-known photonics industry at more than a billion dollars. Photonics use light for sensing, manufacturing, and transmitting information – much in the same way electronics use electrical signals. Products relying on photonics include smartphones, computers and fibre optic communication systems. David Hutchinson, director of the Dodd-Walls Centre, told our reporter Timothy Brown about the industry and its bright future in New Zealand.

To listen to the interview with David Hutchinson click here.

Kiwi-made ‘spy’ tech a sign of our quantum future

Dr Amita Deb in a lab at the Physics Department, University of Otago. Photo / Otago Daily Times

A clever piece of Kiwi-made tech could soon become a handy asset for spy agencies, with the power to bury secret messages where eavesdroppers can’t find them.

Dubbed the “Ry-Fi”, the device is a stellar example of a little-publicised area of science which two just-released reports estimate could soon be worth billions of dollars to New Zealand.

Dr Amita Deb’s tech, about to be issued a US patent, is a world-first optical antenna that can convert data from radio to optical fibre communications – and without the need for any electronic devices.

“We see this being used as a specialised device for specific agencies, perhaps militaries or other departments with a need for secure information sharing,” said Deb, based out of Otago University and the Dodd-Walls Centre.

“It’s able to intercept messages at specific frequencies across a huge range, meaning you have to know what frequency out of billions to be tuning into to access the information.”

“It essentially turns your message into a needle in a haystack for any potential eavesdroppers.”

The tech – which uses fundamental quantum mechanics, and was developed out of Otago University’s ultracold atoms lab – could help prove disruptive to the world of communications.

While electronic devices like our smartphones are heavily relied upon for the majority of modern information sharing, as data sharing improves, so did the need for hardware to be upgraded.

“Electronic devices are only able to intercept information from frequencies to an extent – it’s why your old phone won’t be able to connect to 4G, for example,” he said.

“The hardware is outdated.”

Deb’s team is expected to be granted a US patent in around one month’s time, and Otago University’s intellectual property hub is now in talks with interested parties to commercialise the technology.

“What Dr Deb’s team has achieved here is one of the first of many innovations in the coming second quantum revolution,” Dodds-Wall Centre director and leading Kiwi physicist Professor David Hutchinson said.

One transtasman report released this month found New Zealand’s quantum technology sector could be worth at least $1 billion in coming decades, while creating thousands of jobs.

Dr Amita Deb has built a world-first optical antenna that can convert data from radio to optical fibre communications – and without the need for any electronic devices.

“New Zealand has a long history of excellence in quantum physics, with our scientists and research highly regarded around the world,” Hutchinson said.

“New Zealand has played a leading role in quantum and atomic physics for decades, particularly in the field of quantum optics, where Dan Walls, who the centre was named after, was a leading pioneer.”

“As our quantum research develops, it will be translated into the commercial world through the creation of high value, niche export businesses.”

While quantum computing is still a long way off from becoming mainstream, quantum technology has a broad range of real-world applications today across healthcare, defence, financial services, and privacy.

Quantum sensors can be used to enable early disease detection as well as to discover valuable mineral deposits and for groundwater monitoring.

Quantum computers will also be capable of complex modelling, which can optimise investment portfolios, or boost biotechnology development through quantum chemistry simulation.

A $1b quantum technology industry would be considered well within New Zealand’s top 10 industries, just behind wine but ahead of fish exports.

The report comes alongside another, released today, mapping out the similarly exciting potential of photonics in New Zealand.

Products that rely on photonics – the science of using light for sensing, manufacturing, information transmission and biomedicine – include smartphones, computers, fibre-optic communication systems, laser engraving and cutting machines, drones and medical devices.

According to the report, there were now 121 New Zealand companies involved in the industry, employing more than 2500 people and accounting for about $1.2b of economic activity.

Leading players in the Kiwi industry include Coherent Solutions, an Auckland-based company that makes high-end testing equipment for the optical telecommunications market and now employs 50 people.

“In recent years there has been incredible investment into photonics technologies, which now power high-speed internet to smartphone facial recognition and self-driving vehicles,” said the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Andy Stevens.

“Working at the cutting-edge of technology requires highly trained talent and New Zealand is a great place to attract and train specialised staff and build a sustainable, world-leading photonics company.

“I see a very bright future for the photonics industry in New Zealand.” 

Laser Physicist Wins Emerging Scientist Award

Dr Miro Erkintalo from the University of Auckland’s Department of Physics has won the MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Award at this year’s Prime Minister’s Science Prizes.

Dr Erkintalo is a principal investigator at the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies and his work is in non-linear photonics and laser physics. He develops new laser technologies and studies how intense laser light interacts with matter.

Scientists are constantly pushing at the boundaries of what lasers can do. One of the most important applications of lasers today is the internet, where a laser beam – with a particular wavelength or frequency – is encoded with information and sent through optical fibres so that information is transmitted virtually instantly.

Existing optical fibre networks use hundreds of lasers with slightly different wavelengths to increase the amount of information that can be squeezed through a single optical fibre. One of Dr Erkintalo’s main areas of research focuses on generating multiple laser beams from a single laser beam through a technology called a microresonator frequency comb.

These combs are capable of replacing hundreds of lasers used in existing telecommunications systems with just one, thus improving the systems’ performance and energy-efficiency.

“The capacity of light to carry information through optical fibres is much, much larger than the alternatives but even so, there is a constant demand for more and more bandwidth,” he says.

Besides telecommunications, the research has potential applications in technologies as diverse as self-driving cars and detection of planets outside our solar system.

“What I love about my work is that while it involves fundamental physics, we are also pushing at the boundaries of what lasers can do and how they might play a vital role in technologies of the future.”

Originally from Finland, Dr Erkintalo came to New Zealand eight years ago, planning to complete two years as a post-doctoral research fellow but after almost a decade, he considers New Zealand home.

He credits teamwork within the Department of Physics for the ability to perform excellent science.

“I feel super privileged to be working with an incredible number of talented people, and winning this award is really a testament to what an excellent team we have.”

The Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize is worth 200,000, with $50,000 going directly to the recipient and $150,000 to support their ongoing work.

Expect the Unexpected – online EPIC event on 24 June

Mark your calendars – an EPIC (European Photonics Industry Consortium) 24 hours begins on Wednesday 24 June at 1pm with our very own Industry Team Leader, Professor John Harvey, as he kicks off the event as the opening speaker.  He will be followed by Simon Poole, the Chair of our Industry Advisory Board.

Themed “Expect the Unexpected”, the event features 72 photonics industry leaders from 35 countries who will give a short presentation and have time for Q & A – your chance to hear some of the best minds in the photonics field talking about their successes and challenges without leaving your sofa!

Details of the event can be located here:

Jose Pozo, who Dodd-Walls hosted in 2019, has stepped up to the massive challenge of fueling himself with coffee for 24 hours to moderate this conference…

This is a free event and will be streamed on YouTube.  Join Jose, our members and hundreds of others from around the globe – it’s going to be EPIC!

Simon Poole, Chair of our Industry Advisory Board was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences this week

Simon Poole, Chair of our Industry Advisory Board was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences this week.

The fellowship recognises his research and entrepreneurial achievements. As a researcher he was part of the team which developed the Erbium-Doped Fibre Amplifier (EDFA), which is now a ubiquitous part of the optical fibre networks that underpin the global internet. Simon has also led the establishment of an export-competitive photonics industry in Australia, having founded manufacturing companies in Australia that have generated high-value-add export revenues.  His experience at the interface between research and industry is widely recognised and we are very lucky to have him leading our Industry Advisory Board.

Science of light brings hope to post-pandemic global food crisis – Professor Cather Simpson’s inspiring article

In the lead-up to the International Day of Light celebration this Saturday 16th May, Dodd-Walls Centre Principal Investigator Cather Simpson has written this article on the incredible potential of light-based technologies to address the global food-crisis in the wake of the pandemic. She describes how light can be harnessed as an energy source, a sensor, and a tool to increase food production and the sustainability of farming. As the world faces the devastating consequences of the COVID pandemic, the science of light offers hope and potential solutions. This year the celebration falls on the sixty year anniversary of the invention of the laser, which Cather describes as an event “as important as the invention of the wheel.”

Introducing the Hamilton series!

The Hamilton Award, the Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Research Excellence Award for Science, is awarded annually for the encouragement of scientific research by early-career researchers currently based in Aotearoa. This prize is associated with the Hamilton Lecture every third year, but this year we will be introducing our 2016 to 2018 winners digitally.

  • Physicist and self-confessed minimalist, Dr Miro Erkintalo, who takes “tweezers” to laser light, was presented the Hamilton Award in 2016.

Miro, shares what it is like to win the Hamilton Award, how to draw balance between personal life and research, his hopes for the future, and what it is like settling down on the other side of the world.

The eighth Asia Pacific Conference on Optical Sensors

The eighth Asia Pacific Conference on Optical Sensors (APOS) was held in Auckland over the 19-22 November in 2019. This conference bought together 175 Asian and Pacific researchers with a focus on optical sensing.The APOS plenary speakers presented talks of relevance to the DWC cohort. Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem (University of Adelaide) highlighted the achievements of her laboratory’s research into adapting the properties of optical fibres using physical and chemical mechanisms to sensing, and how her laboratory has collaborated successfully with industry. Kentaro Nakamura (Tokyo Institute of Technology) described his laboratory’s studies into acousto-optic effects and how to use optics to spatially measure sound pressure levels in air as well as to improve optical coherence tomography swept source and scanning systems. Helen Pask (Macquaire University) outlined her laboratory’s use of Raman spectroscopy to remotely measure subsurface water temperature, the potential applications of which are easy to see as ocean temperature monitoring is becoming increasingly important.

The invited speakers continued the trend of varied and interesting talks; the topics extended from passive resonant optical gyroscopes to monitoring malaria and integrated photonic nanostructures, with one-shot 3D imaging in between. DWC’s own Neil Broderick described his forays into the field with Kasper van Wijk, James Loveday, and other national and international scientists interested in studying NZ’s alpine fault pre-earthquake. Not to buck the trend the contributed talks and posters also displayed a wide range high quality research. The most nationally appropriate research had to be the two-dimensional strain sensor based on opal presented by Judith Dawes of Macquarie University.

A third of conference attendees were students; all of whom were eligible for eight student awards from the Optical Society of America. Further, two student awards were available to Australian Optical Society members. Across these 10 student prizes DWC was well represented: Farhan Azeem (UoO), Jonathan Simpson (UoA) and Fang Ou (UoA) all received prizes.

“APOS was a great experience. I had the opportunity to take a more active part in the running of the conference and had my first experience of being chair for one of the sessions. At the conference I also had the chance to engage with other researchers working on optical sensing, which was a great learning experience.” – Fang Ou

“APOS 2019 was a great opportunity to learn about the world-class research being undertaken in optical sensing and discuss my research with international attendees. I particularly enjoyed the presentations related to optical sensing for geophysical applications and gained several ideas to apply to my research.” – Jonathan Simpson&nbsp
“APOS 2019 provided me with an excellent opportunity to showcase my PhD research. It allowed me to interact with pioneers in the field of optical sensing. Moreover, the talk given by Dr. Kristen Maitland about detection of pulmonary tuberculosis was very interesting.” – Farhan Azeem

APOS 2019 was capped off with lab tours through the photoacoustic laboratory, the Photon Factory and the biophotonics laboratory. This was a highlight for several of our conference attendees and many were impressed with the work occurring within these laboratories. Further, these lab tours generated interest in the Dodd-Walls Centre, its aims, and who Dodd and Walls were.


Lab In A Box will be at Polyfest 2020!

Look out for Lab In A Box at Polyfest 2020! The Dodd-Walls Centre has teamed up with Otago Museum to take the shipping container come science lab for a four day show from the 18th to 21st of March at the Manukau Sports Bowl for Polyfest.

This is an exciting opportunity to let experiments burst out of the universities and engage with the Māori and Pacific communities in Tamaki Herenga Waka.

Be on the lookout for lasers, volcanoes and some colourful characters.

Juggling three atoms

Dodd Walls researchers lead by Mikkel Andersen have achieved the first bottom-up assembly of three atoms held in an optical trap.

Laser-cooled and trapped atom cloud viewed through microscope camera.

A myriad of equipment including lasers, mirrors, a vacuum chamber, and microscopes assembled in Otago’s Department of Physics, plus a lot of time, energy, and expertise, have provided the ingredients to investigate this quantum processes, which until now was only understood through statistical averaging from experiments involving large numbers of atoms.

The experiment improves on current knowledge by offering a previously unseen view into the microscopic world, surprising researchers with the results.

“Our method involves the individual trapping and cooling of three atoms to a temperature of about a millionth of a Kelvin using highly focused laser beams in a hyper-evacuated (vacuum) chamber, around the size of a toaster. We slowly combine the traps containing the atoms to produce controlled interactions that we measure,” says Associate Professor Mikkel F. Andersen of Otago’s Department of Physics.

When the three atoms approach each other, two form a molecule, and all receive a kick from the energy released in the process. A microscope camera allows the process to be magnified and viewed.

“Two atoms alone can’t form a molecule, it takes at least three to do chemistry. Our work is the first time this basic process has been studied in isolation, and it turns out that it gave several surprising results that were not expected from previous measurement in large clouds of atoms,” says Postdoctoral Researcher Marvin Weyland, who spearheaded the experiment.

For example, the researchers were able to see the exact outcome of individual processes, and observed a new process where two of the atoms leave the experiment together. Until now, this level of detail has been impossible to observe in experiments with many atoms.

Mikkel Andersen (left) and Marvin Weyland in the physics lab.

“By working at this molecular level, we now know more about how atoms collide and react with one another. With development, this technique could provide a way to build and control single molecules of particular chemicals,” Weyland adds.

Associate Professor Andersen admits the technique and level of detail can be difficult to comprehend to those outside the world of quantum physics, however he believes the applications of this science will be useful in development of future quantum technologies that might impact society as much as earlier quantum technologies that enabled modern computers and the Internet.

“Research on being able to build on a smaller and smaller scale has powered much of the technological development over the past decades. For example, it is the sole reason that today’s cellphones have more computing power than the supercomputers of the 1980s. Our research tries to pave the way for being able to build at the very smallest scale possible, namely the atomic scale, and I am thrilled to see how our discoveries will influence technological advancements in the future,” Associate Professor Andersen says.

The experiment findings showed that it took much longer than expected to form a molecule compared with other experiments and theoretical calculations, which currently are insufficient to explain this phenomenon. While the researchers suggest mechanisms which may explain the discrepancy, they highlight a need for further theoretical developments in this area of experimental quantum mechanics.

Andersens team at the University of Otago were supported by Dodd-Walls theorists from Massey University.

The results have been published in:

Direct Measurements of Collisional Dynamics in Cold Atom Triads
L. A. Reynolds, E. Schwartz, U. Ebling, M. Weyland, J. Brand, and M. F. Andersen
Physical Review Letters

Review in Advanced Quantum Technologies hits the cover

DWC Investigators Schwefel and Lambert publish their invited review on “Coherent Conversion Between Microwave and Optical Photons–An Overview of Physical Implementations” in Advanced Quantum Technologies and are featured on the cover.

Spatially separated quantum technologies will need to communicate using optical channels, rather than at microwave frequencies which correspond to the energy scales of superconducting qubits. The theoretical description underlying the different physical implementations of up‐conversion is the beam‐splitter Hamiltonian. A classical driving field is depicted as a Gaussian field distribution and the quantized pulses are shown in red (microwave) and blue (optical).

In article number 1900077, Nicholas Lambert, Harald G. L. Schwefel, and co‐workers review current experimental implementations.

No storm in a teacup

What happens when you stir a superfluid? Able to flow without resistance, superfluids respond by forming quantized vortices – tiny storms that interact with each other to create quantum turbulence.

Due to its complexity, turbulence is one of the persistent enigmas in Physics. In superfluid helium there is a further challenge: the vortices are so small that measuring the chaos they create is technically challenging. This challenge also offers an advantage as helium can hold a lot of vortices, providing a fertile platform for the study of fully-developed quantum turbulence.

Using a new nondestructive measurement protocol, the experimental group of Professor Warwick Bowen at the University of Queensland were able to track vortices in thin films of turbulent superfluid helium-4. Sachkou et al. developed a technique for the nondestructive tracking of vortices in a thin film of superfluid helium-4. Their system contained a microtoroid optical cavity coated by a thin film of helium-4. Vortices were created and measured using laser light that can efficiently couple into the cavity. Surprisingly, coherent vortex dynamics were found to strongly dominated over dissipation by five orders of magnitude. The on-chip platform provides a new way to study emergent phenomena in strongly interacting superfluids, and to develop quantum technologies such as precision inertial sensors.

Theory collaborator, Dr Ashton Bradley of the Dodd-Walls Centre says “…this experiment opens up new territory for fundamental understanding of quantum turbulence, and also has potential applications in high precision sensing… exciting progress in a challenging field.”

The research was a collaboration between researchers in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) and ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronic Technologies (FLEET) in Australia, and the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies in New Zealand. It was supported by the United States Army Research Office and the Australian Research Council, and and was published in the journal Science.


Koala Student Conference

In early December,  Otago Dodd-Walls students hosted the 12th Conference on Optics, Atoms and Laser Applications, known as KOALA. This is an annual, international student conference supported under the International OSA Network of Students (IONS) programme, which supports conferences run for students, by students.

The programme consisted of a series of student talks and poster presentation, with invited speakers giving plenary talks. Attendees covered a range of topics in optical and quantum sciences, from structural colour production in insects, to spectroscopy of meat predicting quality, and from quantum squeezed light for observing gravity waves, to quantum computing and entanglement. Invited speakers, who were international experts in their fields, gave talks on optical simulations, quantum vorticies, nanotechnology / metasurfaces, and the science of precision measurement. KOALA also included workshops
on science communication, and professional skills for future careers of the attendees.

The 60 students who attended the conference comprised mostly early stage PhD candidates, though this ranged from undergrad and honours to senior PhD students. While most were from Australia and New Zealand, there were representatives from across the globe, including the US, UK, Philippines, Poland, and China. The conference was well received by the attendees, with many noting the relaxed atmosphere “takes off much of the pressure when presenting”, and the variety of presentations introducing “topics
[they] never knew existed”.

The Dodd-Walls Centre was a Gold sponsor to KOALA 2019.


Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi 2019 Research Honours

Last night, two of our industry-facing research stars were recognised for their research at the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi 2019 Research Honours.

Professor Cather Simpson was awarded the Pickering Medal which recognises excellence and innovation in the practical applications of technology.

Cather was recognised for her pioneering research and commercialisation of innovative photonic technologies, which are addressing challenges with a New Zealand focus and global impact. She has developed this technique for micromachining and microfabrication and she has also spun out the technology to solve problems in New Zealand’s agricultural sector. These include being able to sort sperm by sex and assess the composition of milk for every cow at every milking.

Professor Keith Gordon was awarded the MacDiarmid Medal which is for outstanding scientific research that demonstrates the potential for application for human benefit.

This award was for his innovative use of spectroscopy to understand the molecular structure of a wide range of materials – from solar cells, fish oils, to plastics in the environment. His research has optimised solar cells and he has developed methods to identify the different crystalline forms of pharmaceuticals, even at the nano-scale. He has also developed methods to assess the quality and composition of foodstuffs, including dairy, fish and horticultural products.

Congratulations, Keith and Cather!

Amita Deb awarded 2019 MBIE Endeavour Round Smart Ideas funding

Our Dodd Walls Member Amita Deb has been awarded 2019 MBIE Endeavour Round Smart Ideas funding

Dr Amita Deb from Otago’s Department of Physics has been awarded a 2019 MBIE Endeavour Round Smart Ideas funding for the project “Contact-free sensing of high voltages using a laser electrometer”. The three-year project, valued at $1M will lead to the development of a novel monitoring technology for the New Zealand national grid. Associate Professor Niels Kjærgaard is an associate investigator on the project.

More about the project can be found here

The Super-Fridge arrives

The Dodd-Walls Center helium-3 dilution refrigerator has arrived and been commissioned. The fridge is the only one of it’s type in New Zealand. It enables objects to be cooled down to with 0.02°C  of -273.15°C, the absolute zero of temperature.

Exciting results are already flowing from experiments using the fridge.  It will allow Dodd-Walls researchers to continue their development of optical networking technologies that can interface with superconducting qubit based quantum computers.




DPC Conference

Dodd Walls researchers Mike Reid, Jon Wells and Jevon Longdell hosted the 20th International Conference on Dynamical Processes in Excited States of Solids (DPC19) at the Chateau on the Park, Christchurch, in the week of August 26-30. Mike and Jon (Canterbury) handled local organisation and Jevon Longdell (Otago) was the Programme Chair. Dodd-Walls was a major sponsor.

Of 93 scientific participants 73 were from overseas (26 from China). There were 34 students (23 from overseas). Particularly pleasing was the large number of overseas students. 11 of the Chinese participants arrived on the direct flight from Guangzhou on the Sunday evening. That connection certainly makes travel to Christchurch from China very efficient, and they just fitted into the 11-seat shuttle ordered for them!

Many of the presentations were on Quantum Information and Nanoparticle applications, which was highly relevant to the Canterbury and Otago students. This was an excellent opportunity for them to discuss their work with prominent people in those fields. Jamin Martin from Canterbury, and Peter Barnett, from Otago won two of the six poster prizes. The winners had a good geographical spread: New Zealand, China, Poland, and Australia.

DPC was previously run in Christchurch in 2003, Chaired by Roger Reeves. The participants, and the subject areas, have changed dramatically since then. Particularly notable is the large increase in Chinese participants. The next conference is in 2022 in Wrocław, Poland.

The conference ran smoothly thanks to for the great work put in by Canterbury and Otago  students and University of Canterbury support staff. 

The conference was sponsored by: Dodd-Walls, University of Canterbury , Bruker, and Elsevier.
More pictures and information on the web site:

New findings on Fluid Turbulence

Bryan Crump stirs a cup of tea with Dr. Ashton Bradley from Otago University. He’s part of a research collaboration with the University of Queensland which has just published a report in the magazine Science with some breakthrough findings in fluid turbulence which may have implications for our understanding of quark-gluon plasmas, electrons in solids, and the persistence of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, or could help create more efficient transportation.

Click here to listen to Ashton’s interview with Bryan from Radio New Zealand

Universal features of fluid turbulence persist at very different scales: Great Red Spot on Jupiter (Nasa image) comped with clusters of quantum vortices in a superfluid Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC lab, University of Queensland).

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Eric Cornell who discovered new state of matter

Eric Cornell is an American physicist who, with Carl Wieman and Wolfgang Ketterle, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2001 for creating a new ultracold state of matter, the so-called Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC).

The existence of the condensate had been predicted by Albert Eistein, among others, and Cornell had been searching for it for over 10 years before his breakthough – which was discovering that chilling and slowing atoms caused them to merge into a single entity. Eric Cornell has been in New Zealand to attend the 24th International Conference On Laser Spectroscopy (ICOLS), hosted by the Dodd-Walls Centre, New Zealand’s national research group for photonic and quantum technologies, which combines top scientists from across the country and is based at the University of Otago.

Click here to listen to Eric’s Interview with Kim Hill

ICOLS 2019

The International Conference on Laser Spectroscopy is a biennial conference concerning developments and applications of precision measurement and control in atomic systems. The 24th ICOLS was held in Queenstown from July 8th until 12th, and attracted about 170 participants from around the world.

Highlights included the stunning line up of plenary speakers, including Professors Eric Cornell (Nobel Prize 2001), Ana-Maria Rey, Tilman Pfau, Jun Ye, and Holger Mueller. An array of invited and hot topic talks (including our very own Assoc. Prof. Niels Kjaergaard and Scott Parkins) highlighted research at the cutting edge of the field. The conference was well attended by Dodd-Walls Members, with many of the approximately 150 poster presentations showcasing our research.

Two memorial sessions celebrated the contributions of two key members of the ICOLS community who recently died: Our own Prof. Howard Carmichael spoke on the contributions of Professor Roy Glauber (Nobel Prize 2005), who had deep connections to the quantum optics community in New Zealand. Prof. Ken Baldwin spoke on the life and contributions of Professor Wim Vassen, followed by an impressive talk from Yuri van der Werf on recent research in the Vassen group. Prof. Vassen’s work was on Helium spectroscopy and the production of ultra-cold Helium gases, and included collaborations with Dr Maarten Hoogerland.

Participants enjoyed a fantastic week in Queenstown including a superb conference dinner at Walter Peak Station. It was quite amazing to see so many quantum physicists in awe of the steam engines on the TSS Earnslaw used to ferry us over to the station. Huge credit to our Prof. David Hutchinson who made the bid to hold ICOLS in New Zealand 2 years ago, and who chaired the organizing committee.

At the conclusion of the meeting it was announced that ICOLS-2021 will be in Colorado organized by a team from Boulder.

ICAVS 2019

Over 300 people (290 from overseas and from 34 countries) collected in Auckland the week of 8 July 2019 to discuss the latest developments and applications of vibrational spectroscopy.

The tenth International Conference on Advanced Vibrational Spectroscopy (ICAVS10) was enjoyed by all due to the excellent and varied programme. There was a series of plenary lectures that covered a wide range of topics, including the application of near infrared spectroscopy in food industries, plasmon-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, developing an infrared-based device for clinical application, and nonlinear vibrational spectroscopy for the study of interfaces. The range of oral and poster presentations was even more extensive.

The exhibition space highlighted the latest technology available in vibrational spectroscopy, including a quantum cascade laser based mid-infrared imaging system and frequency comb-based IR spectrometer.

At ICAVS10 we tried to make sure there were plenty of opportunities for students and early career researchers to network and embrace the conference experience, for example, several students were given the chance to chair a session, and there was a sponsored student pub night.

The conference was a success and many of the attendees will, no doubt, see each other at the next ICAVS in Krakow in 2021.

Quantum jumps not so random after all

An atom in the ground state subject to weak illumination will jump up, in an instant, to the excited state at some random time.  At least this is a standard description of the process which is at the heart of many light-matter interaction processes.

Dodd Walls theorist Howard Carmichael has shown that this is only an approximation to the true behavior. In fact, if the environment of the atom is monitored carefully enough, quantum jumps are actually a smooth and deterministic process that can be reversed half way through.

Working with an experimental group from Yale University this has been demonstrated experimentally using superconducting qubits as the “atom”.

The results are published in this week’s issue of Nature.


Red Sock Award for DWC Member

DWC member Andrus Giraldo was one of the seven winners of the famous Red Sock Award for best poster at the biennial SIAM Conference on Applied Dynamical Systems, held with over 1000 participants in Snowbird, Utah last week. The award consists of a pair of red socks and a cash prize, handed over in person by Prof James A Yorke (the University of Maryland, famous for his paper “Period three implies Chaos”), who wears only red socks himself.


Nathan Pages manages to capture part of the award ceremony.

The only other time that we had such a success for the University of Auckland was in 2009 when Ph.D. student Emily Harvey won a Red Sock Award (see the report in the July 2009 issue of DSWeb Magazine. Claire Postlethwaite has also won a Red Sock Award, but it was in 2003, well before she became affiliated with the University of Auckland (this was reported in the first-ever DSWeb Magazine issue from October that year).

Congratulations Andrus!

Techweek 2019

The DWC ran a highlight event in Auckland this year for Techweek19. It was a lively event with speakers including Hon Megan Woods, Prof Cather Simpson, and Charlotte Walshe. The event focussed on Prof Cather Simpson’s journey from idea to acquisition for Engender, and thoughts on how to encourage academic entrepreneurship. We had strong attendance from DWC members and members of the innovation network, MBIE, Callaghan and the investment community. Feedback on the event was extremely positive, and we are proud to have been one of the highlight events of Techweek19.

Minister Woods was able to attend and speak in her capacity as Minister for Research, Science and Innovation. She spoke to the success of the CoREs, including the importance the CoREs play in the national innovation system as catalysts of ideas and ground breaking research. She commended the Dodd-Walls Centre on being a great example of a successful Centre of Research Excellence with our internationally acknowledged, ground breaking research. Our commitment to our diversity and gender equity also received a special mention with regard to our Carer’s Fund.

Breakthrough research to revolutionise internet communication

1physics Dr Harald Schwefel and Dr Madhuri Kumari

A team of University of Otago/ Dodd-Walls Centre scientists have created a novel device that could enable the next generation of faster more energy efficient internet. Their breakthrough results have been published in the world’s premiere scientific journal Nature this morning.

The internet is one of the single biggest consumers of power in the world. With data capacity expected to double every year and the physical infrastructure used to encode and process data reaching its limits there is huge pressure to find new solutions to increase the speed and capacity of the internet.

Principal Investigator Dr Harald Schwefel and Dr Madhuri Kumari’s research has found an answer. They have created a device called a microresonator optical frequency comb made out of a tiny disc of crystal. The device transforms a single colour of laser light into a rainbow of 160 different frequencies – each beam totally in sync with each other and perfectly stable. One such device could replace hundreds of power-consuming lasers currently used to encode and send data around the world.

The work was born out of Dr Schwefel’s previous research at the prestigious Max Planck Institute in Germany and his collaboration with Dr Alfredo Rueda who did some of the preliminary research.

The internet is powered by lasers. Every email, cell phone call and website visit is encoded into data and sent around the world by laser light. In order to cram more data down a single optical fibre the information is split into different frequencies of light that can be transmitted in parallel.

Dr Kumari says the current infrastructure is struggling to cope with demand as internet consumption increases significantly.

“Lasers only emit one colour at a time. What this means is that, if your application requires many different colours at once, you need many lasers. All of them cost money and consume energy. The idea of these new frequency combs is that you launch one colour into the microresonator a whole range of new colours comes out,” Dr Kumari says.

“It’s a really cool energy saving scheme,” says Dr Schwefel, “It replaces a whole rack of lasers with small energy efficient device.”

He expects the devices to be incorporated in sub-oceanic landing stations where all the information from land based fibres is crammed into the few sub-oceanic fibres available in less than a decade, perhaps within a few years.

“To develop the device for the telecommunications industry we will need to start working with major telecommunications companies,” Dr Schwefel explains. “We have started the process by collaborating with a New Zealand-based optical technology company.”

This breakthrough is the first milestone in a government funded collaboration between scientists at the University of Otago and the University of Auckland who are part of the Dodd-Walls Centre for Quantum and Photonic Technologies – a virtual organisation gathering New Zealand’s top researchers working in the fields of light and quantum science. The research project has been awarded nearly one million dollars of Marsden Fund money to develop and test the potential of microresonator frequency combs.

The optical frequency combs are based on a very unusual optical effect that happens when the intensity of light builds up to extremely high levels. You send a single colour of visible light into the crystal disc along with a microwave signal and because the crystal disc is such high quality, the light and microwave radiation gets trapped inside. The light and microwave radiation keeps pouring in and bouncing around and around inside the crystal. In most situations light never changes colour but in this case the intensity becomes so high that the light and the microwave radiation start merging and making different colours. The phenomenon is known as a non-linear effect and it has taken the team many years to optimise.

The only other group in the world making devices of competing quality is a collaboration from Harvard and Stanford Universities in the US, also published in this month’s Nature, but currently Drs Schwefel and Kumari hold the record for the most efficient device. Essentially this means that their crystals don’t leak any light. The trick is to have an extremely high quality crystal. Harald’s group are a world experts in crafting crystal discs in his University of Otago lab.

The internet is just one of the possible applications for the new optical frequency combs. Another use is high-precision spectroscopy — using laser light to study and identify the chemical composition, properties and structure of materials including diseases, explosives and chemicals. Dr Kumari’s next mission will be to explore this application amongst other possibilities.

“This is a very very exciting project to be working on,” says Dr Kumari. “Optical frequency combs have literally revolutionised every field of applications they have touched. You can use them for vibrational spectroscopy, distance measurement, telecommunications. I’m looking forward to seeing how we can use ours.”

Breakthrough research to revolutionise internet communication

A team of University of Otago / Dodd-Walls Centre scientists have created a novel device that could enable the next generation of faster more energy efficient internet. Their breakthrough results have been published in the world’s premiere scientific journal Nature this morning.

The internet is one of the single biggest consumers of power in the world. With data capacity expected to double every year and the physical infrastructure used to encode and process datareaching its limits there is huge pressure to find new solutions to increase the speed and capacity of the internet.

Principal Investigator Dr Harald Schwefel and Dr Madhuri Kumari’s research has found an answer. They have created a device called a microresonator optical frequency comb made outof a tiny disc of crystal. The device transforms a single colour of laser light into a rainbow of 160 different frequencies – each beam totally in sync with each other and perfectly stable. One such device could replace hundreds of power-consuming lasers currently used to encode and send data around the world.

Dodd-Walls Centre Members success in 2018 Marsden Round

Huge congratulations to Dodd-Wall Centre Members who were successful in the latest round of Marsden Grants for 2018. 

  • Computing with Walls of Light – Associate Professor Stephane Coen (PI) & Dr Miro Erkintalo (AI), University of Auckland $935,000
  • Hot Entanglement with Cold Atoms – Dr Mikkel Andersen (PI) & Dr Ashton Bradley (AI), University of Otago $935,000
  • SPASER – Towards Practical Nanolaser Devices – Dr Boyang Ding (PI), University of Otago $300,000 (Fast-Start)

Next-Generation Small Molecule Acceptors for use in Organic Solar Cells – Associate Professor Geoff Waterhouse (AI) $300,000 (Fast-Start)

Chair of the DWC’s Industry Advisory Board wins Australian Prime Minister 2018 Prize for Innovation

Congratulations to Dr Simon Poole and his team at Finisar Corporation (NASDAQ: FNSR) for winning the Australian Prime Minister Prize for Innovation for 2018. Simon is the Chair of the Dodd-Walls Centre’s Industry Advisory Board.

Simon and his team have invented technologies that make global internet connections faster.

The global internet we rely on is carried by optical fibres that link continents, countries and cities. The speed and volume of internet traffic was limited by the need to convert data from light to electrical signals for switching and processing. To tackle the speed problem, the Finisar team created light-bending switches using prisms, liquid crystals and silicon, which have dramatically improved the capacity and reliability of the internet. One switch can handle one million simultaneous high definition streaming videos.

The team are now working to boost the capacity of their devices further to meet the demands of 5G and the Internet-of-Things.

More information