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STEM SIGHTS: The Concordian who catches light

This optical feat could be the key to tomorrow’s telecommunications
October 16, 2017
By Meagan Boisse

What’s the best way to trap something as elusive as light?

That’s what Tabassom Hamidfar, a Concordia PhD student in the Department of Physics, has been trying to find out. “There’s a lot of scope for research and development in optics and photonics,” she says.

Hamidfar’s research revolves around finding the most effective way to confine and condense light. Such a breakthrough could be the key to revolutionizing computer technology, giving it the capacity to execute lightspeed calculations.

To capture light, Hamidfar employs a special instrument called a microresonator, which uses optic fibres to create ultra-tiny, sophisticated circuits.

'I have always wondered about the world around me'

How does this specific image (above) relate to your research at Concordia?

Tabassom Hamidfar: My research revolves around a specific device capable of trapping light in a very small volume. It’s called the Surface Nanoscale Axial Photonics (SNAP) microresonator.

In the image we see the SNAP microresonator (horizontal) arranged perpendicular to a tapered optical fibre (vertical) that is transmitting light. The bright light along the SNAP image shows how the light is coupled from the fibre into the microresonator and trapped there.

What is the hoped-for result of your project, and what impact could you see it having on people’s lives?

TH: Our microresonators are very small, and could be used to fabricate inexpensive yet complex miniature photonics circuits that would be cheaper and more efficient than the ones currently available for applications such as data transmission and processing. This could, for instance, make more data bandwidth available to more people.

What are some of the major challenges you face in your research?

TH: Accuracy. In my field we work on a very small scale — think micro or nano. That means even miniscule changes in how we do things can significantly alter our results.

In which key areas could your work be applied?

TH: Optical microresonators have great potential in areas such as optical telecommunications, computing and communications, as well as in the general manipulation of light: switching it, slowing it, filtering it and generating it. Also, my work could be valuable for high-precision environmental sensing.

What person, experience or moment in time first inspired you to study this subject?

TH: I have always wondered about the world around me. Physics, especially optics, have been integral for human life for as long as we’ve existed.

In the past, light from the stars helped humans find their way in the night. Today, we use light differently — for instance, when we turn on our electronic devices and look into them.

I am fascinated by the way optics problems relate to the real world, and there’s a lot of scope for research and development in optics and photonics.

Who knows what these photons have in store to amaze us!

How can interested STEM students get involved in this line of research? What advice would you give them?

TH: You need to believe in your ideas, stay motivated and work hard until you get results.

What do you like best about being at Concordia?

TH: In addition to the multicultural community at Concordia, the university provides its students with support through great resources and guidance.

Last year, I was awarded the Lorraine Gosselin Scholarship and Concordia’s Mobility Award. These awards allowed me to travel to the UK for seven months to conduct experiments in one of the best institutes of photonics technologies on the continent. As a PhD student, it was a great opportunity.

Moreover, Concordia’s support for conference travel enables students to go to conferences in their research fields, to socialize and converse with researchers and to grow their network.

Which partners or agencies support your research?

TH: My research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Fonds de recherche du Québec, Nature et technologies (FRQNT) and Concordia.

What prompted you to return to Concordia for your PhD?

TH: I joined Pablo Bianucci’s research group in the physics department as an MSc student in 2013, and graduated in April 2015.

After becoming familiar with optical fibres I realized that Quebec is one of the best places for optical fibre-based research. This, alongside professor Bianucci’s excellent knowledge, fabulous supervision and never-ending support, motivated me to pursue a PhD in physics at Concordia, specializing in optics.

Find out more about Concordia's Department of Physics.


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