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Martin Thomaschewski receives prestigious PhD award from Danish Academy of Natural Sciences

Electro-optical devices that are smaller than a human hair can revolutionise computers and telecommunication. On Friday, Martin Thomaschewski received the PhD award from the Danish Academy of Natural Sciences (DNA) for his work with just these electro-optical devices.

Thunder and lightning are natural phenomena that have fascinated human beings throughout the entire history. From Greek mythology we know Zeus, the Romans had Jupiter, while we in the North had Thor – and all of them were described as rulers of the heavens.

In 1752, the American politician and scientist Benjamin Franklin proved with a well-known kite experiment that lightning is an electrical discharging. And it was also the fascination of thunder and lightning that got Martin Thomaschewski from SDU Nano Optics interested in light as a phenomenon not long ago.

- As a small kid, I excitedly counted the seconds between lightning and thunder, so I could calculate the distance to the thunderstorm. I got deeply fascinated by the speed of light in relation to the speed of sound. I developed a strong and enduring curiosity in related to optical phenomena.

His fascination has now resulted in his PhD thesis Active nanophotonic circuitry based on surface plasmons being rewarded with the prestigious PhD award from the Danish Academy of Natural Sciences.

- My particular interest in the field of nanooptics started at Kiel University, Germany, where I conducted research on nanophotonic waveguides under the supervision of Prof Michael Bauer. During my Erasmus semester at TEK, University of Southern Denmark, I could manifest that interest and I was particularly delighted when Professor Sergey Bozhevolnyi offered me the opportunity to become one of his PhD students in the Centre for Nanooptics. 

What is your project about?

- My PhD project is related to the study of nanophotonic interaction with matter for the development of integrated electro-optic devices. These devices translate information from the electrical domain in the form of electrical bits into the photonic domain, and vice versa. Current electro-optic elements have very large footprint dimensions in the range of several centimetres. 

- During my PhD project, I could reduce the size of these devices down to dimensions much smaller than a human hair. Additionally, the reduction in size leads to a drastic improvement of translation efficiency, speed and energy consumption. 

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

- The main challenge to develop nanoscaled electro-optic devices stems from the fact that light can’t be easily squeezed to sizes smaller than its wavelength. This leads to an enormous size mismatch between photonic and electronic components which has presented a major problem in interfacing these technologies. 

- However, by coupling of electromagnetic waves to electrons at the surface of metal, light can be confined far below its wavelength. This attractive feature of plasmonics has led to the realization of exceptionally compact and efficient electro-optic devices developed during my PhD.

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

- In current days where digital networks and connectivity are more vital than ever, it is important to have a reliable and dense telecommunication network with high information-handling capacity. Electro-optic devices in data centres are playing a very crucial role in this telecommunication network; however, they consume considerable amounts of energy and generate too much heat. 

- Furthermore, the increasing volume and detail of data collected and transmitted all over the globe require ever higher performance requirements for future telecommunication technology. 

- The new plasmonic devices developed during my PhD fulfil the demands of future communication links by being smaller, faster and more efficient than current electro-optic technology. On top of that, they are inexpensive to produce and consume very little energy. This is a crucial step towards making the technology fit for the future of data transmission. 


The PhD award from the Danish Academy of Natural Sciences is given to a PhD or industrial researcher graduated from a Danish university or institution of higher education. The award must be given for an extraordinary or outstanding thesis as acknowledgement and encouragement.

Editing was completed: 27.11.2020