Prof receives international research award for work in optical science

Physics professor to collaborate on research in Germany

Dr. Stephen Hughes.
Credit: 
Supplied by Stephen Hughes

On Dec. 18, the University announced that Dr. Stephen Hughes, a physics professor at Queen’s, has received the Humboldt Research Award.

The Award is an international recognition of excellence in research across all disciplines.

Recipients are granted €60,000 and spend up to one year working on a long-term project with specialists at a research institution in Germany. The Humboldt Foundation seeks to promote academic cooperation and exchange between Germany and other countries worldwide. 

Hughes’ research focuses on nanophotonics and quantum optics. Nanophotonics is the study of how light interacts with nanoscale-structures while quantum optics deals with the relationship between individual particles of light (photons) and matter at the quantum level—atoms, molecules, and solid-state materials.

Using nanophotonics, visible light can be trapped into spaces of nanometric scale which enhances the behaviour of light and the interaction with matter within the space—when applied to this process, quantum optics allows for the study of coupling between individual photons and atoms with heightened control.

His contributions to the science of optics garnered the attention of internationally renowned Dr. Andreas Knorr at the Technical University of Berlin, Hughes’ nominator for the award.

“With Professor Knorr, [I] will explore topics combining both of these areas in an emerging field called quantum nanophotonics, which I believe holds much promise for new science and technological innovation,” Hughes wrote in an email to The Journal.  

Nominations were submitted by established academics in Germany, and were subsequently put before a selection committee of 22 academics from all disciplines.

The selection process doesn’t operate with a quota system—country, gender, and research field aren’t considered—and decisions are based solely on academic qualification.

Hughes will be travelling to Germany intermittently to work with Knorr over the next three to five years at the Institute of Theoretical Physics in the Technical University of Berlin.

“Professor Knorr leads an excellent group in theoretical quantum optoelectronics, and his work is very well known internationally,” Hughes wrote. “I am certainly excited about strengthening research collaborations in Germany, and with Professor Knorr’s group in particular.”

He anticipates this shared project will enable more collaboration between Queen’s and German institutions in the future. To Hughes, the Humboldt Award allows him to tackle challenging projects which are difficult to take on alone.

Cooperating with Knorr, Hughes believes their work will lead to new discoveries.

“In science, it’s good to travel and discuss ideas with colleagues about the latest developments and research projects,” Hughes wrote. “We’re fortunate that there is simply lots of unexplored territory in our field that will keep us busy for quite some time.”

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