It has been months in the making, you can even say years! Today we breathe, a milestone is reached – we are here and we are now online.
The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optical Systems (just call us TMOS) is a $45 million investment from the Australian Research Council of Australia ($34.9 million) and five Australian universities – Australian National University (ANU), University of Melbourne, University of Technology Sydney, University of Western Australia and RMIT University (the rest of the cash). We also have twenty national and international academic and industry partners. We are all contributing a further $23 million of in-kind support to this project. We have seven years and the intellectual capital and resources to achieve our goals.
“The ARC Centre of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optical Systems will develop the next-generation of miniaturised optical systems with functionalities beyond what is conceivable today. By harnessing the disruptive concept of meta-optics, the Centre will overcome complex challenges in light generation, manipulation and detection at the nanoscale. The Centre brings together a trans-disciplinary team of world-leaders in science, technology and engineering to deliver scientific innovations in optical systems for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The research outcomes will underpin future technologies, including real-time holographic displays, artificial vision for autonomous systems to see the invisible, and ultra-fast light-based WiFi.” – Application Summary, ARC Centre of Excellence Proposal CE200100010 (TMOS)
We are excited to be doing this!
TMOS was one of nine winners from ninety-three applicants to the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence 2020 round.
We started thinking about making TMOS happen back in 2017 as we performed some pathology on why we didn’t make it past the first round of the 2017 round of Centres. After two rounds of proposals submitted in 2018 (one of which was 600 pages) and an intense interview in 2019 we waited…then the Centre Director, Professor Dragomir Neshev got the phone call, while in Tel Aviv, Israel, at dinner with his friends. “Congratulations!” It was surreal and wonderful! However, he had to keep it secret from his dinner friends, who all noticed a certain something different about him. Nothing important and life-changing about that phone call my friends!
The secret was kept until the Minister made the announcement on 11 October 2019. TMOS was funded! Wow!
Thank you to the Australian Research Council. Thank you to our colleagues across the world who have participated in TMOS. Thank you to our supporters and professional colleagues at our universities who did much to make the process smoother for us. Thanks to those that gave their input and spent their days, nights and weekends discussing, planning, writing and editing. Thank you to our friends and families who believed in us, and so much more. Our success was possible through the team beyond the thirty-three names listed on our proposal. Thank you. We have so much to be grateful for.
It was time to get started.
“The Centre aims to transform the field of optics as we know it today. By performing cutting-edge research on interactions of light with nanomaterials, TMOS will develop optical systems with smart functions not possible today. Our discoveries will underpin technologies ranging from real-time holographic displays for augmented reality to wearable optical sensors and 3D vision. The work will make Australia a leader in the optical technologies for the fourth industrial revolution.” – Centre Director, Professor Dragomir Neshev, The Australian National University
We are establishing ourselves during an interesting time!
TMOS is headquartered in Canberra, Australia, with Sydney, Melbourne and Perth as our ‘Node’ cities. We ended 2019 and began 2020 with severe bushfires in Australia. The smoke from the fires shutdown Canberra and ANU for several days in January. We were worried about our friends and loved ones, and the special places we treasure. We couldn’t go outside without a facemask due to the air pollution – grey skies and wild sunsets. We didn’t know there would be more to come! On 20 January, we suffered a disastrous hailstorm in Canberra. We lost our cars due to the hail damage (20,000 cars were written-off). We could not enter our workplaces for several days, and some labs are only just re-opening now in August after months of repairs.
It was not all dark days – the smoke and storm clouds parted – and we have a Centre to setup! We prioritised a Chief Investigator team meeting in Brisbane to kick-start our planning for starting up the Centre. We met on Valentine’s Day. We worked on the vision for TMOS and where we want to head together over the next seven years. It was a lovely way to connect and deepen our collaboration.
Then, we were all affected by COVID-19 in March.
Through all this strangeness and challenge, we have dedicated ourselves to taking the opportunity to set things up right in TMOS. All fifteen TMOS Chief Investigators, plus the COO, meet online every week to democratically solve problems and make decisions. We are learning how to operate as a single TMOS entity. We have planned – as a team (Team-Oz) – several years of research as an integrated whole. We’ve been working out contracts with our partners. We have mapped our governance and how we make decisions. We picked a brand and a logo (one of the most heated discussion points we have had so far!). We are learning how to be better leaders and team members.
Our current challenge is on recruitment. We want to attract the best and brightest in the world to Australia – for PhDs and postdoctoral fellowships. We want to start with a round of special measures to create a more diverse future workforce (we think this is a great IDEA). The timing is tricky as we thought we might be welcoming eager people into the team from all over the world already.
We are cautiously aiming to launch our research program fully in January 2021. If you are interested in postdoctoral or PhD opportunities, do get talking to us. We are here and are getting ready to take all our resources and enthusiasm to do some big things in fundamental and applied science.
Nevertheless, for today, we will celebrate our milestone – the TMOS branding and website is public.