From Professor Dragomir Neshev, Centre Director as outlined in the 2022 Annual Report.
2022 was an important year for TMOS. Firstly, interstate and overseas travel opened for us to meet and undertake many activities in person. I will never forget the enthusiasm of all students and early career researchers attending the first outreach workshop at Questacon in March. The ability to create together and the excitement to share what they’d learned was enormous.
Once we ramped up the in-person activities at the Centre, we started interacting much more robustly as a team. The events culminated with the Centre’s first annual conference, held at Murray Bridge in November 2022.
It was clear that the in-person interactions are the catalyst for fruitful collaboration.
These social interactions have genuinely nurtured the creative intellectual environment and brainstorming culture for innovations at the Centre. In addition, they provided the next generation of researchers with an opportunity to form networks with their peers. It is the relationships they form now, early on in their careers, that will lead to research success further down the line.
To increase the impact of our research, in June 2022, the Centre established two flagship projects linking the activities from all three research themes to accelerate industry and cross-node engagement. These flagships have been designed to provide the glue between the individual building blocks of the Centre’s research program. The two flagships are:
1) real-time holographic displays-cameras and,
2) integrated sensors (wearable and portable).
The establishment of the Centre’s flagships has created a focal point for the Chief Investigators’ efforts to define problems for which the new generation of meta-optics technology students can provide ground-breaking solutions.
This year, our research program has delivered stunning results. The team’s research output has resulted in a total of 100 publications in refereed journals. Several of these publications were the product of cross-node collaborations and collaborations with Partner Investigators. Even with these achievements, we are still seeing the ripple effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns with cross-node outputs not where we’d initially planned. With laboratories now open and the cross-node exchange program established, we are confident that the collaborative research activities will drive a higher number of cross-node publications in 2023.
Notably, our research outputs have been directly linked to tangible outcomes. We are particularly proud of the four start-ups launched by the Centre’s next generation of entrepreneurs. These include Luminere Systems, a quantum communications company spearheaded by the Centre’s University of Technology Sydney; Hyrea, a sustainable energy start-up from the Australian National University (ANU); MagicWavelength, which uses new infrared technology to assist with agriculture and is led by the University of Western Australia team; and VIcolours, also by ANU researchers, which is leading the way in plasmonic colours. We are also proud to see the continued translational activities with our two industry partners, ThermoFisher Scientific and IEE.
Worldwide, we are also witnessing exciting times for our new generation of technology.
The first meta-optic device by the Harvard start-up Metalenz has hit the consumer market. This first product, a metalens for mobile phone cameras, has shown that the technology is maturing and the market is interested. In further evidence of such, we have also seen several large companies investing in the research and development of meta-optics technologies. These companies include Apple, Google, Samsung, Meta (Facebook), Huawei, Sony, and STMicroelectronics.
The key drivers for this commercial interest are the advantages of meta-optics technology, such as the miniaturisation of optical components to reduce size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements for optical systems. Such miniaturisation is essential to progress modern consumer optoelectronic devices, drones, and space applications.
However, there are also other fundamental advantages that drive the field. First is meta-optics’ ability to enable smart functions that are not readily achievable with conventional optics. These include visualising the hidden information carried by light, such as polarisation, phase, and other modalities, and integrating multiple functions in a single optical element. The second is the way nanoscale volumes of the building blocks of meta-optics offer opportunities for fast and real-time reconfigurability of the optical functions, something that, at TMOS, we are investing considerable effort in.
What does this mean for TMOS? The industry provides direction to guide our world-class research activities. The industrial applications define the open questions and the fundamental research that needs to be done to answer these questions. Their multiple needs also open new commercial opportunities for the Centre’s activities. However, to capitalise on these opportunities, we need a deeper engagement with the industry and stronger collaboration between different groups in the Centre.
Finally, the next generation of technology requires a new generation of a skilled and diverse workforce. TMOS has an important role to play on this critical front, as led by IDEA Director Prof. Madhu Bhaskaran. I am proud of the work done by our early career researchers and students. It gives me great pleasure to watch them grow as researchers and earn the accolades they deserve. In particular, I want to acknowledge the achievements of Shridhar Manjunath, who was awarded the SPIE Optics and Photonics Education Scholarship; Dr Lukas Wesemann, who was awarded funding under the Australia-Germany Joint Research Co-operation Scheme, and Dr Daria Smirnova, who was the winner of the 2022 IUPAP Early Career Scientist Prize for Laser Physics and Photonics.
The Centre’s momentum over the past year has quickened. Its outcomes have been positive. I look forward to working with the team of TMOS to see the impact of our research in 2023.