Frank Koppens Wins 2019 ACS Photonics Young Investigator Award Lectureship - ACS Axial
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Frank Koppens Wins 2019 ACS Photonics Young Investigator Award Lectureship

The Editors of ACS Photonics are proud to announce that Professor Frank Koppens, ICREA Professor at ICFO – The Institute of Photonic Sciences, is the winner of the 2019 ACS Photonics Young Investigator Award Lectureship. The lectureship, established in 2016, honors the contributions of a researcher, within the first 5-12 years of their independent research career, who has made major impacts on the field of photonics.

Highly regarded for his seminal contributions and breakthroughs, Professor Koppens is recognized as a world-leading scientist in several research fields including nanoscience, quantum technologies, 2D-materials, nano-optics, and optoelectronics. Among some of his accolades, 23 publications have been acknowledged as “highly cited” by Web of Science. Last year, he was listed by Clarivate as a highly cited researcher, an achievement highlighting the top 1% and usually awarded to more senior researchers.

Professor Koppens has been pivotal in establishing and overseeing the largest European research & development project ever created: the Graphene Flagship. This 10-year project, with a budget of €1 billion, is tasked with bringing together academic and industrial researchers to take graphene from the realm of academic laboratories into society. Numerous media outlets, including The Economist, BBC, and CNN, have covered his work.

“Thanks to Frank’s groundbreaking and pioneering work aimed at studying the fundamental behavior and potential applications of graphene and related 2D materials, today we have a deeper and better understanding of this unique class of materials. Recognized worldwide for starting a new research field, graphene nanophotonics, Frank’s research has undoubtedly made a remarkable impact on the photonics community,” says Harry Atwater, ACS Photonics Editor-in-Chief.

Q&A: Get to know Professor Koppens

What does it mean to you to win the 2019 ACS Photonics Young Investigator Lectureship?

It’s a huge honor. Starting and then running a research group as a young scientist is like running a marathon without knowing where the finish line is. Especially when you try new research directions, there is excitement but also uncertainty, as one can never predict if things work out. I’m so grateful that several research directions have worked out so well, and this ACS award is for sure the crown on the years of hard work.

Also, this award is a recognition for the entire team of students and postdocs that made crucial contributions and in many cases, even proposed new ideas that led to very successful outcomes.

And most importantly, it means a lot to me that with this award, it is recognized that the program that was initiated by the CELLEX Foundation was highly successful. This program was launched to enable young scientists to start their own group and pursue their own ideas with full freedom. That was a very special opportunity and accredited to the visionary perspective of the foundation.

What made you pursue the field of graphene plasmonics?

For three reasons:

First, graphene plasmonics is about breaking records! It was clear from the beginning that with graphene, it’s possible to manipulate and confine light in a completely different fashion. But then on the way, we found that light could be confined even more than we ever thought. The record strong confinement of light down to one atom was realized, and that was initially very surprising. These surprises really drive me and keeps research very exciting.

Second, plasmons and other types of polaritons in 2D materials are a great tool to study interesting physics of the materials, including the electronic response and the light-matter interactions. For example, by probing Terahertz graphene plasmons, we found that the non-local and electron interaction effects strongly affect the plasmons. The ultimate limits on light-matter interactions are in reach now.

Third, the material platform is like an atomic Lego for light. By stacking 2D materials into heterostructures, one can build a material system atom-by-atom. We used this system for controlling light and even managed to control and confine light with atomic-scale precision. That is very exciting for potential applications, but it did predominantly allow us to understand and discover new underlying physics.

What project in your group are you most excited about right now and why?

Currently, we are working on a new ERC project (consolidator) on topological nano-photonics. One of the aims is to create plasmons with topological properties, potentially even protected from scattering, and exhibiting fascinating properties such as one-way propagation.

Moreover, we aim to exploit plasmonics to study topology in quantum materials. A very exciting quantum material is twisted bilayer graphene, which can exhibit topological domain wall boundaries and even correlated electron phenomena. When rotated by the “magic” angle, unexpected behavior such as superconductivity and magnetism has emerged, and we are studying the interactions of light at the nanoscale with this material. I expect many interesting surprises.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

Take risks, explore new directions, be open for surprises, establish a great team and give students and postdocs the freedom to pursue their own ideas.

As the winner, Professor Koppens will present his award lecture at the Nanophotonics and Micro/Nano Optics International Conference (NANOP2019) in Munich, Germany in September.

Recommended Reading

Graphene Plasmonics: A Platform for Strong Light–Matter Interactions
Nano Lett., 2011, 11, 8, 3370-3377
DOI: 10.1021/nl201771h

Propagating Plasmons in a Charge-Neutral Quantum Tunneling Transistor
ACS Photonics, 2017, 4, 12, 3012-3017
DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.7b01020

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