Theme 1A: Photonic Sensors & Imaging
Lasers are the power tools in the world of science. In this theme we use their extraordinary light to see, hear, smell and feel far beyond the reach of our senses. When you fire a laser at an object there is a tremendous amount of information in the light that bounces back. We use different colours, pulses and powers of laser light to learn about the structure and function of biological tissue and many other surfaces.
Our expertise in interpreting the way light interacts with matter has led to many unexpected and fruitful collaborations across New Zealand and overseas. We are developing sensors to sort sperm for the dairy industry, detect bacteria on carcasses, grade the quality of meat and locate blossoms on kiwifruit plants. We are working with engineers and medical researchers to develop a technique for detecting eye disease, a new method for measuring the intensity of skin burns and a force sensor for keyhole surgery. We are also working with geophysicists to measure vibrations deep beneath New Zealand’s alpine fault.
Our sensing and imaging projects are underpinned by a strong focus on theory and numerical modelling. Our researchers are world renowned for their understanding of nonlinear optics, when light stops behaving according to the normal rules. We are able to exploit these nonlinear effects to create novel sensing and imaging technologies.
Theme 1B: Photonic Sources & Components
They say workers are only as good as their tools. This theme is developing new and improved lasers, fibre optic cables and other optical tools to open up new frontiers for research and applications. We work in close collaboration with the other three themes to provide tools to enhance their research and probe further into the quantum world.
We are world-renowned for our expertise in fibre lasers, which are versatile, lightweight and cheap to produce. We develop them for use as cutters, sorters and sensors for a wide variety of industrial and science applications. We are also well known for our strength in nonlinear optics; understanding what happens when light stops behaving by the normal rules. Our fundamental theories and numerical models are used by top research groups across the world and have led to advances in the development of optical frequency combs, cavity solitons and other nonlinear devices that could revolutionise the internet and many other fields.
Theme 2A: Quantum Fluids & Gases
The quantum realm is the wild west of modern science. Although we know some of the basic rules, the vast majority of quantum interactions remain uncharted. In this theme we explore cold atom physics, which is like a playground for quantum phenomena.
By cooling atoms to just above absolute zero and precisely controlling their state, we have the ability to create and observe almost any quantum effect we can think of. We run experiments and develop theory to investigate quantum phenomena such as quantum vortices, quantum turbulence, the conditions before the Big Bang and biological processes involved in photosynthesis. We are exploiting this new understanding to develop quantum technologies such as extremely precise gravitometers and clocks. We are world renowned for our legacy in quantum theory and despite our modest budget have developed outstanding experimental facilities which are enabling world-class results.
Theme 2B: Quantum Manipulation & Information
It is one thing to understand how the quantum world works; it requires another level of precision and control to build reliable devices and systems that exploit quantum phenomena.
This kind of ‘quantum engineering’ is the focus of this theme. Through precise observation and control of the interactions between photons of light and atoms we are contributing to the development of a new generation of quantum technologies. Our aim is to exploit the weird aspects of the quantum world like quantum superposition (the ability of a quantum particle to exist in more than one state at once) and quantum entanglement (when several particles behave as if they were a single entity).
Our researchers have record ability to isolate and control the motion of single atoms. We can move atoms around with laser light and stick them together to create completely new molecules and conduct ultra-precise experiments. Our research is contributing to the development of quantum computers capable of solving extremely complex problems. We are looking at novel ways of creating qubits, the fundamental processing units for quantum computers, and developing solutions for quantum memory and quantum debugging. Quantum communication is the focus of several projects. We are working on a technique to enable communication between quantum computers over large distances. This involves translating single microwave photons, which quantum computers operate on, to optical photons, which are easily transported down optical fibres. We are also contributing to the fundamental theory behind quantum communication networks and quantum measurement.