The Institute of Photonic Sciences attracts leading researchers from across the world

Discovering the optic properties of ‘graphene’, a new material for which the 2010 Physics Nobel Prize was awarded, is one of the institute’s projects. Frank Koopens came from Harvard to Catalonia to work on this project, together with other scientists.

CNA / Bertran Cazorla

March 17, 2011 11:07 PM

Castelldefels (ACN). - The Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) has a technological and research campus in Castelldefels, next to Barcelona Airport in the heart of the Barcelona Metropolitan Area. This campus hosts a leading world level research centre: the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), launched by the UPC and the Government of Catalonia. Its fellowship programme ‘Nest’ attracts scientists from all over the world, such as Frank Koppens, who came from Harvard University. Koppens works in a research programme on Nanophotonics, where he is attempting to study the optical properties of the ‘graphene’, a new bi-dimensional material made out of carbon atoms. The 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to André Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for discovering ‘graphene’. Now, one of the ICFO’s research groups is working on developing this material’s applications by finding its optical properties, which are still to be discovered. The Nest Fellowship already allows for the hiring of leading researchers from across the world and the formation of three research groups. This fellowship is an initiative from the Cellex foundation, which will enlarge and boost the ICFO. The Nest research programmes will be combined in a new building, with construction starting this week.

Graphene “was discovered only 5 years ago and it has been revolutionary for electronics”, explained Koppens. He is Dutch, holds a PhD from Delft University in the Netherlands and specialised in Nanophotonics and Quantum Optics at the University of Harvard. Koppens added that the optical properties of the new material have not been investigated yet. He is interested in finding out the answers. He will do so with the team he is forming presently, hiring researchers from all over the world. Koppens leads one of the three research groups that have been selected to start work within the framework of the Nest programme.

The other two research teams are lead by Melike Lakadamyali, who also came to Barcelona from Harvard, and Gerasmos Konstantaos, who came from the University of Toronto, in Canada. They were selected among 200 candidates in a process that lasted two years. They will participate in a broader project, the Nest programme, funded by the Cellex foundation. This programme aims to compete with the Max-Planck Institute and the University of Stanford in attracting young top talent from all those specialised in photonic sciences. The researchers will occupy a new 3,800 square metre building, which is being built next to the current ICFO building, unveiled in 2002. The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, participated today in the first stone laying ceremony. Mas was joined by the President of the UPC, Antoni Giró, and by the Catalan Minister for Economy and Knowledge, in charge of Catalan universities, Professor Andreu Mas-Colell.

Along the frontier between photonics, health sciences and information technology

“This programme will enable work combining photonics and other branches of sciences and technology, such as health and life sciences, information technology or nanotechnology”, said ICFO Director, Lluís Torner, at the official ceremony.

Expand the “intellectual potential”

Koppens pointed out that with ICFO enlargement, the centre’s attractiveness will increase; a centre that is already a world reference, he stressed. “It is important for a research institute to have a critical mass”, he explained. “An intellectual atmosphere with enough diversity and intellectual potential must be created in order to make science move forward”, he added. Koppens concluded that “when the institute grows the new building will attract new groups, the intellectual potential will be greater and it will be more attractive for people wanting to come here”.

Frank Koppens, who won an Award from the American Physical Society in 2007, already took the decision to leave his previous research team behind and go to the Castelldefels campus. From last August he works in the ICFO, and pointed out that the facilities in which he performs his research “are very good”. “I have a lot of independence, I can develop my own research independently, I can hire the best people from all over the world because this institute has an excellent reputation and the intellectual climate is great, and because there are excellent research group leaders”, he added.