Harmonic generation with a nanoscale guitar string
Politecnico di Milano
Please explain your research in simple words
I investigate nanoantennas. What is a nanoantenna? That's easy to figure out: a very small antenna. What a nanoantenna does? Its role is the same as the big ones we have on top the roof: it receives and transmit information through EM waves. Due to their size they are excellent candidates as the fundamental constituent for extremely compact and integrated future communication systems. At the same time, the EM waves that work for a nanoantenna are visible and infrared light, which makes them even more appealing. I specifically study the generation of optical harmonics to impinging radiation, with the aim of generating new signals and information channels. The mechanism at work is the same as the one of a guitar string, if pinched it emits different harmonics, e.g. different notes, therefore new information.
I will keep you updated on the typical life of a researcher. More specifically, since I am now visiting professor in Dijon, I will focus on the life of a scientist outside his own institution. I will keep you also updated on the things that pops up on my Twitter account and on the Twitter account of @Plasmonica, the network of Italian researchers working in the field of Nanophotonics and Plasmonics that I am currently curating.
What can the followers expect in your curation week?
How did you end up in your current research field?
More or less, I ended up working on the same topic I started with. My first research task during the master thesis was to couple ultrashort laser pulses to a Scanning Near Field Optical Microscope. I went on to doing a post doc at ETH during which I received a call from Italy, which told me that there were some applications opening in Italy and one was in a microscopy lab in the same Department I did my first experiments in, but in a different group (which was pretty uncommon in Italy …and I am pretty proud of it, the apple has fallen a little further from the tree). There I started to slowly assembly the lab according to my passions. I left the molecules in favor of metals and semiconductors, since the group is mainly surface science oriented, but I manage to save the nonlinear optics bit and started developing nanostructures for the efficient generation of harmonics in tiny volumes.
Well, a title that would summarize my research field would be “Engineering plasmonicm dielectric and semiconductor antennas and metasurfaces for efficient nonlinear light-by-light conversion at the nanoscale”. That’s says it all!
How and where does your research fall in the domain of materials/nano science?
Which research project are you most proud of and could you explain it in simple words in the section we call #InOtherwords?
I guess if I have to bet on one of the topics I am recently involved, it would be exactly a “metadevice” capable of manipulating photons with photons and at the same time tune, say electronically or optically, at will and extremely fast, say ultrafast, the optical properties (polarization, direction, spatial profile) of the photons involved. Let’s say #inOtherwords: designing an ultraflat material that allows photons to talk to each other and tell them what to do, what to become and where to go in just a millionth of a billionth of a second to transport safe and fast information.
I teach a quite huge course of Physics at the first year of bachelor: Mechanics, Thermodynamics and Electromagnetism altogether (poor guys!). I do really appreciate the possibility to re-study every year the fundamentals of physics, since it allows to comprehend much better some basic concept that we take for granted, but they are absolutely not. Questions by the students on even the simplest concept can make you question yourself also about Newton’s Law. I will be also teaching scanning probe techniques to master students.
If you teach, which are the courses would you like to mention?
If you had 3 wishes to improve your research experience, what would you ask for (not promising anything here!)?
Really? Only three?!
1. I did not quite yet understood why Europe is granting ERC for fundamental science and the most important part is the impact and disruptive nature of the project. If it is fundamental it is expected to face the unknown. So first I wish basic research would be more funded without huge expectations, maybe with a less amount of money.
2. I would love that there would be less super-hype journals in favor of some “Journal of Reproducible Results”. We are publishing too much and too many papers out there are not well double-checked.
3. I have my personal point of view on gender too. This is a really messy ground. However, too many times people are focusing on equality and erasing differences between gender or population or anything else. I think diversity is a great asset and if gender or race comes with some average differences this is just an added value to life and therefore to science. I wish therefore that people would stop fighting on the equality and give real value to diversity.
I will probably start writing a big proposal and I would love in the next coming months to have just time to stop, think and focus on what’s really next in my research field…of course hopefully something more with respect to what I have told you so far!
What are you most looking forward to in the next 3 months?
Which challenges/questions is the nano/materials science field facing at the moment?
I think one of the main challenges is the subject I have been mentioning before. Take metasurfaces and metamaterials to the next step. Another big challenge is to see where 2D materials will end up. What are the most promising applications? Although for life-science most of the things happens in the volume, the near future for nanomaterial science is definitely two dimensions. Interfaces are an awesome playground and flatland can be still the origin of many unpredicted and exotic phenomena.