The University of Southampton

Researcher’s hat-trick of grants explores spacecraft coatings, ultrafast optics and ‘nanoscale pinball’

Published: 14 August 2018
Professor Otto Muskens has secured three grant awards in a two-week period

Professor Otto Muskens has praised the strength of multi-disciplinary research at the University of Southampton after securing three grant awards in just a two-week period.

The researcher will expand on recent scientific advances in space technologies and nanophotonics across the three projects, which represent a research income of around £1m to Southampton’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

The three projects for the Integrated Nanophotonics Group have been awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Leverhulme Trust and the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme.

“These grants will allow us to continue delivering new and original research that sustains the excellence of our School,” Otto says. “I think it is very important that we work together across our expertise in Engineering and Physical Sciences. Most of the excellent research in our Faculty is done with the input of many different teams and skills, and this is one particular strength of Southampton.”

The new Horizon 2020 SMART-FLEX project is aimed at creating smart and flexible metamaterial coatings for spacecraft and satellites. The research follows on from the EU-funded META-REFLECTOR project and will involve an international consortium of space tech partners.

The funding from the Leverhulme Trust will explore the extraordinary nonlinearities of light in complex media.

“We have been intrigued for a number of years by how light interacts with complex nanomaterials, in which light waves bounce around like in a nanoscale pinball machine,” Otto continues. “We will be targeting fundamental physics questions such as the existence of Anderson localisation, for which Philip Anderson received the Nobel Prize but which has never been demonstrated for light.”

The new grant from the EPSRC will allow researchers to share expertise of ultrafast nano-optics. The project will open up access to Southampton’s Chameleon Ultra II laser system to early stage researchers and fellowship holders that would otherwise not have access to comparable capabilities.

“It was certainly a nice surprise to get three grants at more or less the same time, but it was the result of many months of preparation,” Otto adds. “The three grants reflect very different aspects of the group’s activities, from very applied to very basic research.

“We are engaging in multi-disciplinary teams. For example, the SMART-FLEX project will involve Professor Kees de Groot from the School of Electronics and Computer Science and Professor Dan Hewak from the University’s Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics. Nanofabrication in Southampton’s world-class clean rooms is an important aspect of our research and takes up a lot of time and resources. To combine new materials and devices with optical experiments is challenging, but over the years we have built a strong track record and international visibility in this area.”

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