Photonics, lasers and nonlinear optics

The School has extensive research efforts in optics, laser physics, optoelectronics and nonlinear optical phenomena, including:

  • Laser cooling and trapping of atoms – cooling (slowing down) atoms to nearly absolute zero and creating atomic laser beams. This work allows researchers to study the fundamental physics of atoms, as well as to develop technological applications in atom beam lithography and precision measurements. Bose-Einstein condensation in solid-state systems offer novel avenues for room temperature quantum applications.
  • Optical meta-materials – creating artificial materials with properties unknown in nature by nanostructuring thin films at a scale much smaller than the light wavelength. These offer unique possibilities for miniaturised optical components and novel applications in wearable sensing technologies, holographic displays and night-vision devices.
  • Waveguide photonics - research into optical hybrid integrated circuits to provide passive, nonlinear, amplifying and detection functions on a single chip by integrating multiple technologies. We are upscaling our precision production of chalcogenide and tellurite glasses, including rare earth doping for gain, silicon nitride/tantalum pentoxide, germanosilicate and organic-inorganic polymer glasses. These studies open applications in novel single-chip optical systems, including ultrafast laser-based devices, and will ultimately lead to a foundry type service for Australian users.
  • Optoelectronic devices – development of novel photodetectors, solar cells, nano-LEDs and nanolasers. MOCVD growth of a variety of nanostructures including InP-based vertical-cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs), quantum well structures and quantum dot infrared photodetectors. Ion beam intermixing is also used for post-growth modification of devices.
  • Quantum computing – development of quantum computer architectures based on nuclear/electron spins that are associated with optically active centres. This allows the spins to be manipulated and measured using purely optical techniques.
  • Theoretical modelling of nonlinear optical phenomena – dissipative photonic phenomena, modelling and design of novel light-processing devices for telecommunications and other applications.
  • Laser matter interactions – studies of the interactions of intense laser light with matter on both the theoretical and practical sides. Examples include the formation of new states of matter using intense ultrafast laser-induced microexplosions, complex beam architectures and ablation of material using nanosecond and femtosecond pulses for cleaning, etching, cutting applications in industry and art/heritage preservation. The largest scale project is cleaning paint, contamination and rust off the Sydney Harbour Bridge without damaging the underlying steel structure so the bridge will stand for at least another 600 years.

As well as light-based optics and devices, we have a world-leading research effort in precision measurements using atom-optics and other related technologies. In areas such as satellite gyroscope rotation measurement central to positioning measurements, our research offers inherent accuracy millions of times better than current systems.


ANU hosts a comprehensive array of enabling technologies that enable the design of novel quantum materials and technologies. Our large suite of nanofabrication facilities include MOCVD growth systems, diagnostic capabilities and testing facilities, and features one of Australia’s leading nuclear physics establishments, the Heavy-Ion Accelerator Facility.

Specifically in the optical domain is an ANFF node at ANU, ANFF Optofab ACT. This node is dedicated to fast turn-around precision and full custom optical elements for research and industrial rapid product development, initially involving the fabrication of high performance custom coatings and small optics on our Veeco Spector dual ion beam system and Moore Nanotech single point diamond lathe.


Physics at ANU has a proud history of commercialising our research. Current photonics-related spin-offs include laser manufacturers Hotlight Systems, quantum cybersecurity company Quintessence Labs and Quantum Brilliance, who are developing light-based quantum computing technology. More projects from Physics at ANU are on our Innovations page.

Potential student research projects

You could be doing your own research into photonics, lasers and nonlinear optics. Below are some examples of student physics research projects available in our school.

Spatial laser mode analysis for thermal noise measurements in optical cavities

Gravitational wave detectors have reached the thermodynamic limit of optical coatings. Further sensitivity improvements require new coating materials and noise mitigation techniques. This project models the behaviour of higher order spatial laser modes in optical resonators for measuring coating thermal noise directly.

Dr Johannes Eichholz, A/Prof Bram Slagmolen, Distinguished Prof David McClelland

Synthesising non-Hermitian gauge fields for microcavity exciton polaritons

This project aims to realise various useful artificial gauge fields for cavity photons and exciton polaritons. These fields are expected to be non-Hermitian and can be used to combine effects of non-Hermiticity and topology, e.g. topological edge states and non-Hermitian skin effect. Realising these non-Hermitian fields is an important step towards practical applications of exciton-polariton condensates and superfluids.

Dr Eliezer Estrecho, Prof Elena Ostrovskaya

Ultrafast laser cleaning - The light touch

Laser Cleaning is a cutting-edge technique designed for removal of contamination layers from solid surfaces by irradiating the surface with a laser beam. It is a non-contact process, which does not require the use of chemicals or abrasives, eliminating problems of chemical toxicity, corrosive residues, and erasure of surface structure. 

Dr Ludovic Rapp

Ultrashort laser processing for advanced applications

Laser processing is a cutting-edge technique designed for to clean, texture, enhance surfaces in a way not possible with any other method. It is a non-contact process, which does not require the use of chemicals or abrasives, thus eliminating problems of chemical toxicity and corrosive residues.

Dr Ludovic Rapp, Professor Andrei Rode

Please browse our full list of available physics research projects to find a student research project that interests you.