Category Archives: News

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

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)

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.”

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.

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

New findings on Fluid Turbulence.

Bryan 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

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.

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.

DCP Conference

Update Courtesy of DWC Associate Investigator, Prof. Mike Reid.

Jon Wells and I 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. Jon and I handled local organisation and Jevon Longdell (Otago) was the Programme Chair. Dodd-Walls was a major sponsor.

This journey to this event began three years ago, at the previous DPC conference in Paris, where Jon Wells, Roger Reeves, Jevon Longdell, and I put together the bid that was accepted by the International Committee. We locked in the venue about 15 months ago, and waited to see what numbers we would have. Clearly, it’s hard to get a lot of people to fly all the way from Europe, so our meeting was much smaller than Paris, but several participants commented favourably on the standard of work presented, and the friendly feel of the meeting.

Of 93 scientific participants 73 were from overseas (26 from China). There were 34 students (23 from overseas). I was particularly pleased that we had a 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 that I 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 (and less Japanese, European and American). The next conference is in 2022 in Wrocław, Poland.

The conference venue was very congenial and efficient. Our overseas participants appreciated the excursion that took in Rutherford’s Den (Old University site), some of the city sights, a winery, and a quick stop at the current UC campus.

We were ably assisted by our UC and Otago students and postdocs, and were pleased to have UC Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Ian Wright opening the conference, and Head of School of Physical and Chemical Sciences Rudi Marquez at the Banquet. We are grateful to all our helpers, and to the UC staff who helped with web pages, purchasing, and printing. Also, of course, our sponsors: Dodd-Walls, UC, Bruker, and Elsevier.
More pictures and information on the web site:

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!