Scottish scientists secure 3m Euros for ‘new-frontier’ research

HERIOT-Watt University scientists have been awarded three million euros (2.35 million pounds sterling) to investigate new areas of quantum physics, looking at how energy and matter interact in a bid to revolutionise information and communication.

The two researchers, Dr Brian Gerardot and Dr Daniele Faccio at Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences, will conduct research over the next five years after being awarded funds from the prestigious European Research Council (ERC).

Both projects will further understanding of how different conditions affect particles. The outcomes will add to the growing body of knowledge in nanotechnology.

Professor Alan Miller, deputy principal (research and knowledge transfer), said: “To secure two awards from such a competitive funding scheme run by the European Research Council confirms the international competitiveness of research carried out at Heriot-Watt.

“The scale of the funding for these two research programmes over five years gives these experts the scope to really delve into some of the most complex and fundamental questions about how energy and matter interact.”

Dr Daniele Faccio will mimic black hole conditions (where space is distorted and ‘sucked in’) in his laboratory, using intense laser pulses. He will then examine how light behaves when it travels through a medium (eg air or space) that is moving at the speed of light.

This builds on Dr Faccio’s earlier work which sought to establish evidence of Hawking radiation (see articles from The Economist and Wired) – the theory that black holes lose energy and mass over time, meaning they would eventually disappear.

Dr Gerardot will test and control how single photons and electrons (both elementary particles) interact with each other in computer chips. Dr Gerardot has proposed a new type of semiconductor device architecture that can create, transmit, receive, and process information on a large scale, paving the way for widespread use in, for instance, providing communications systems that are much faster and more secure than existing systems.

The ERC, part of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), is the first pan-European funding agency for investigator-driven frontier research designed to support the very best, truly creative scientists, scholars and engineers in going beyond established frontiers of knowledge and the boundaries of disciplines.


For more information contact: or t. 0131 556 0770 /  07584 474 232

Technical summary of research projects are as follows:

Dr Brian Geradot: awarded 1.5 million Euros over five years

Project Title: SEQUoiA - A scalable quantum architecture

Scientists world-wide are in pursuit of radical proposals to exploit coherent quantum states for a diverse range of applications including communication, information processing, and metrology. Similar to conventional technologies, the quantum machinery will most likely consist of photons and semiconductor devices to create, transmit, receive, and process the quantum information. Indeed, a range of coherent solid-state quantum states which interact with photons have been developed over the last decade. However, the inherent semiconductor promise of scalability has yet to be realized for these quantum systems.

SEQUioA takes a highly inventive approach to quantum scalability. It will allow new fundamental investigations into quantum coherence in the solid state and the further development of quantum technologies. SEQUioA will build and exploit a novel architecture to deterministically create a non-local coherent interaction, or entanglement, between multiple remotely located semiconductor quantum dots. The architecture achieves independent optical and electrical control of each quantum dot. Two distinct types of non-local interactions will be investigated. The first, based on projective measurements of indistinguishable photons, probes and exploits the ideal atom-like behaviour of quantum dots to generate remote entanglement. The second coupling mechanism, mesoscopic in nature, is based on a long-range magnetic interaction between confined spins in spatially remote dots.

Dr Daniele Faccio: awarded €1,556.580 for five years

Proposal summary: Light in moving media (MOLIGHT)

The interaction of light with matter is traditionally studied in media that are either still or moving at a negligible fraction of the speed of light. In this regime standard text-book results apply.

However, if the medium or, more generally speaking, certain parameters that distinguish the medium such as the refractive index are made to change or move close to the speed of light then new and unexpected scenarios emerge.

For example, if the medium refractive index is made to oscillate at high, eg optical frequencies then a parametric interaction occurs with an incident light beam applied transformed into a new pair of light beams. If closed within cavity mirrors, amplification by the oscillating medium is enhanced and even vacuum photons are excited in correlated pairs in a process analogous to the dynamical Casimir effect. We will also consider the opposite regime in which the refractive index profile does not oscillate but is made to move forwards close to, or even faster than the speed of light.

Again we encounter surprising effects: light propagating in such a moving medium finds an elegant description in terms of a space-time metric in which space is flowing in much the same way in which water flows in a river or in which space flows in a gravitational field. Under appropriate conditions the analogy can be extended to black holes and the analogue of an event horizon for light is formed by the perturbation. Light is frequency shifted at the horizon and is also amplified: the horizon acts as a parametric amplifier. The perturbations required for these and other related effects described in the proposal will be experimentally obtained using intense laser pulses and nonlinear optics and thus open a fascinating new area of laser physics.

About Heriot-Watt University

Heriot-Watt University specialises in science, technology, engineering, business and design, with a particular focus on developing solutions to critical global issues, such as climate change and energy.

In The Sunday Times 2013 University Guide

  • Scottish University of the Year 2012/13 (for the second year running)
  • UK University of the Year 2012/13 for student experience
  • Number nine in the UK overall

In the National Student Survey 2012

  • No 1 in Scotland and No 4 in UK (based on responses to all questions from FT degree students)
  • In the top ten for graduate employment in the UK (over 94 per cent of graduates are in employment or further study within six months of graduation)

Established in 1821, the university has campuses in Edinburgh, the Scottish Borders, Orkney and Dubai, and is investing £35 million in a new campus in Malaysia.

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