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Christos Tserkezis selected as 'Outstanding Referee'

The American Physical Society (APS) has selected 153 Outstanding Referees that have demonstrated exceptional work in assessing manuscripts published in the Physical Review journals, including Christos Tserkezis from the Mads Clausen Institute.

By Sune Holst, , 3/24/2023

Congratulations to Christos Tserkezis, who has been selected as 'Outstanding Referee'.
 The Outstanding Referee program was instituted in 2008 to recognize scientists who have been exceptionally helpful in assessing manuscripts for publication in the APS journals.

The highly selective Outstanding Referee program annually recognizes about 150 of the roughly 88,600 active referees. Like Fellowship in the APS, this is a lifetime award. In this year, 2023, 153 Outstanding Referees were selected.

Christos Tserkezis from POLIMA at the Mads Clausen Institute was selected based on their reports' quality, number, and timeliness without regard for membership in the APS, country of origin, or field of research. 

First of all: What does this honour mean to you?
It is excellent, and it is an honour to find your name on a list that includes great physicists such as Philip Anderson, Neil Ashcroft, Mildred Dresselhaus, and Freeman Dyson. The American Physical Society is probably the most important and prestigious society for physicists; publishing in their journals, like Physical Review Letters and the more specialized to condensed-matter physics, Physical Review B, is still considered a quality stamp among scientists, despite the influx of "high-index" journals we are experiencing in recent years.

Offering a service like peer-reviewing to a Physical Review journal asks you to keep in mind that this is the environment where, as a reader, you would expect to see interesting and correct physics, not necessarily sold with a glossy cover.

It is a big responsibility to ensure that your feedback on a manuscript under review is meaningful, constructive, and focused on novelty and rigour. And if you are doing this job with this mindset, you always wonder if your comments served this purpose; it is always likely that while reviewing, you misunderstood something, you were already prejudiced against the manuscript, or you just had a bad day. Receiving this recognition after the 10-12 years that I have been reviewing for Physical Review gives me the satisfaction of knowing that society recognizes that I am working in the right direction. I am offering the best service that I can.

Why did you become a researcher?
I can't say I ever felt that I wanted to become a researcher; just, at some point when finishing my undergraduate studies (a four-year diploma in Greece) I realized that I wanted to continue for a master's (that was another two years).

I knew that this should be done with a subsequent PhD in mind. And during my PhD, I was lucky enough to find decent enough conditions (even though Greece was just entering the financial and political crisis from which it hasn't recovered yet) and the necessary guidance and support that allowed me to realize that I do enjoy research. I might, in fact, not be that bad at it.

So, it was not a desire to achieve something specific, answer a particular problem or design some new application that led me to research –in one word, I guess it was just serendipity.
Which other career did you consider?
None. Growing up and then studying in a country where the opportunities are limited anyway and where no amount of preparation, studies, and hard work can guarantee you a career, it makes sense to grab whatever comes in your path, especially if it is something you enjoy.

There was a brief moment in the transition from undergraduate to master's student when I considered quitting and entering the family business when I seriously doubted my abilities. Still, luckily everything worked out in the end.
What occupies you at the moment?
I am generally involved in nanophotonics, which combines electromagnetism and optics with quantum- and solid-state physics elements. We just initiated a new DNRF centre of excellence, POLIMA, led by my mentor and friend N. Asger Mortensen, which intends to study polaritons, both from a fundamental point of view and in terms of applications.

Polaritons are the hybrid states that emerge by the interaction of one component of matter (electrons, phonons, spins etc.) with light. The most straightforward case to explain is that of plasmons, they are due to the interaction of electrons with light; incident light sets the electrons of a piece of matter (most commonly a metal) into motion, following the oscillation of the electromagnetic field of light.

This leads to intense resonances, high field intensities, localized in minimal volumes (smaller than what you can see with traditional optics), which we can then use to transfer information with light or to manipulate molecules and biological matter. We intend first to understand the physical processes involved in such interactions and then design applications, e.g. to visualize, probe, and possibly even alter biomolecules.
Which question would you like to find an answer to?
I don't have an extensive scientific question in mind, never had… I am happy to deal with little problems, try to understand one little thing at a time, and wait to see the bigger picture. I guess what I am interested in seeing is if any of the things I do, any of these little problems, will prove vital in the future, say in 20 years –and if it will be important in a way that I had anticipated, or it will be a complete surprise.
What is the most significant breakthrough in your field ever?
Hmmm, that should depend on what we want to call "my field". Optics, electromagnetism, and solid-state physics are all quite broad labels, and they are the foundations of modern technology.

Polaritons, on the other hand, might be too narrow a label about a field with only a few years of history, and then it is too early to identify a "breakthrough". It makes more sense to answer about nano-optics and nanophotonics, the part of optics that deals with the nano-world. And in that, subwavelength resolution techniques, the ones awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014, are probably the most important and with the highest potential impact. That is because they allow us to see, in detail, objects that conventional microscopes cannot see, be that proteins, viruses, or human-made nanostructures.
How do you hope that others can benefit from your research?
No clue. As I mentioned above, I am always trying to determine the importance of what I do and whether it will be relevant. Whenever I get involved with a problem, my first goal is to understand the underlying physics clearly.

I hope those who read the outcome will also appreciate this acquired "wisdom". It will help them clarify some issues or inspire them to go further. I am pretty happy that I have met a few colleagues who have told me, "I like what you do. I trust your work". Continuing this, and educating students who can do such work and attract such comments, are probably my biggest wishes for the remainder of my career.
Which other research field fascinates you the most?
Usually, the teenagers who decide to study physics are fascinated by astrophysics and high-energy physics –those fields that intend to interpret "life, the universe and everything". I was never much attracted to that; however, since I was first introduced to solid-state physics as an undergraduate, I found solid-state/condensed-matter physics to be the field to which I was most drawn.

I guess it makes sense for someone who I think is down-to-earth to be more interested in the physics of the world around us, our current technologies, and the possible ways to improve them. My research is only a tiny part of what can go under this general umbrella; on top of the optical properties that I study, there's a lot of exciting physics regarding electric, magnetic, acoustic or mechanical phenomena, and in many of these cases what might be a weird curiosity today can become the basis of technology in 30 years. Apart from this, I am growing increasingly interested in the connections with aspects of my work in biochemistry and biophysics. Having recently started teaching atomic physics has made me appreciate this field much more.
What do you have in your office that most other people don't?
I keep a relatively austere office, with just the necessary equipment (computers, books and some basic furniture). But one thing that might stand out is the Doctoral hat that my colleagues and students made (following the German tradition of a PhD hat), when I defended my doctoral thesis/habilitation a few years ago.
Who do you admire the most?
Anyone who knows more than me has better intuition and understands physics better than me. And it can be the colleague next door (hi Christian!), or it can be someone whose talk I attended at a conference or just someone who comes with no face but just with a DOI number because I enjoyed their publication.
What do you do when you need to research?
I read a lot of literature, listen to music, and have spent increasingly more time cooking in recent years.

Editing was completed: 24.03.2023