Can you give us a little background about yourself?
I was born and raised in a family of engineers. My father is an electrical engineer and my mother has a degree in applied mathematics and has worked with the very first computer systems in my home town back in Russia. When I was a little girl, I used to spend time at my dad’s radio communication laboratory at the local railway unit playing with colorful resisters and flapping Svoren’s ‘Electronics Step by Step’ book. My first high-school passion was elementary particles physics. But soon after I started at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, known informally as PhysTech – a top school in Russia in physics founded by Noble prize winners Landau and Kapitsa – I became interested in applied physics. I did my Bachelor and Master projects at the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (LPI RAS) specializing in quantum-well lasers in the laboratory of semiconductor injection lasers. I did my PhD studies in the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) with the focus on nanophotonics and nanofabrication. During my PhD project, I was very fortunate not only to have great university advisors (I still collaborate very actively with my major advisor Sergey Bozhevolnyi from University of Southern Denmark) but also to have an experience working in a start-up company Micro Managed Photons. A combination of academic and industrial experience gave me a unique perspective and good preparation for my job as a professor.
How did you get into electrical engineering and when did you start?
My Master degree is in applied physics even though what I did at the Lebedev institute could be considered an electrical engineering project. Still, officially I got into electrical engineering when I started my PhD project at DTU.
How did you get your job? What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?
When joining Purdue University for a tenure track position, I was an associate professor at DTU with work experience both in academic university and industry. After getting my PhD degree from DTU in 2004, I worked at two photonics start-up companies (both spin-offs from DTU). I came back to DTU with an independent postdoc grant (so-called “Talent project” grant) in 2005 to start my academic career.
What award are you most proud of? Can you tell us about it?
In my career, I have been very fortunate to have amazing advisors and mentors who always supported me. So, I deeply indebted to my mentors for a list of great awards on my CV including awards and recognitions from professional societies such as Materials Research Society (MRS), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Optical Society of America (OSA). I am most proud of my MIT Technology Review TR35 Award. This is a Technology Review magazine published by MIT that ‘honors 35 innovators under 35 each year whose work promises to change the world.’ This is a great motivation to do research that will live up to this expectation!
Can you tell us about your work when you were still in the research field?
My current research focuses on discovery, design and realization of novel photonic materials, “plasmonic” nanostructures and “metamaterials” to advance optical technologies. My group is one of the leaders in the new research direction in which material engineering is introduced into nanophotonics and plasmonics – one of the most active fields within the current optics – to solve fundamental challenges in this area including lack of tunability and dynamic control, high optical loss and poor performance under realistic operational conditions. Nano-optics enabled by plasmonics changes the way we control light by utilizing "surface plasmons" - waves of free electrons that are coupled to light and strongly confined to the interface between a metal and a dielectric. Surface plasmons and plasmonic metamaterials could offer dramatic advances in the area of ultra-thin optics, data recording, photothermal therapy, sensing, and energy conversion.
What has been your favorite project?
It has always been fascinating to study unique ways of manipulating light at the nanometer scale. Working on so-called plasmonic structures has been my favorite project since my graduate studies. Nano-optics – or plasmonics – changes the way we control light by utilizing "surface plasmons" - waves of free electrons that are coupled to light and strongly confined to the interface between a metal (usually gold or silver) and a dielectric. Surface plasmons enable ultra-small, nanometer scale optical components such as deeply subwavelength light guides, detectors and modulators, as well as exotic classes of engineered optical materials (metamaterials) that yield properties not found in nature. Plasmonic metamaterials drastically enhance light-matter interactions, uncover new physics and could offer dramatic advances to existing photonic technologies including single-molecule sensors, imaging systems, denser data recording, more efficient solar cells and chip-level circuitry that would be faster and less energy consuming that current nanoelectronics.
What are you currently working on?
I am very much excited about my current research on utilizing robust, durable materials with tailorable optical properties for advancing optical components for nanophotonics, energy conversion, photothermal therapy and harsh-environment operations, such as high-temperature sensors for gas and oil industries.
Do you participate in professional organizations? Can you tell us about it?
I have a broad expertise in photonics, nanotechnology/nanofabrication and optical materials, with a research portfolio at the intersection of nanophotonics and material research. Thus, I am actively involved with both optical, engineering and materials research societies. I have served on the Board of Directors for Materials Research Society (MRS). I am a Fellow of the Optical Society of America (OSA) and the SPIE - International Society for Optical Engineers, and my service includes conference committees for MRS, OSA, SPIE and IEEE conferences, student chapter advising, and editorial work. I am an editor-in-chief for the OSA’s Optical Materials Express journal and my prior editorial experience spans both optical and materials journals in USA and worldwide including Optics Letters, MRS Communications, ACS Photonics, and Advanced Optical Materials. I also enjoy volunteering for Congressional visits representing MRS in the annual visits to The Hill.
What direction do you see nanotechnology heading in the next few years?
Nanotechnology is an ultimate example of a highly interdisciplinary field. What I see as an overall trend is an increasing synergy between various research fields and technologies. Merging engineering with life sciences, optical technologies with materials research and computational physics and quantum science with electrical engineering will be indeed in the focus for the years to come. Things get smaller, and many technologies including optical instrumentation, energy conversion, sensing and imaging, are entering the nanoscale regime calling for synergistic approaches merging nanomaterials, nanolectronics, nanophotonics with nanofabrication and computations science.
Is there anything you’d like to say to young people to encourage them to pursue electronics?
The future of electronics lies in the nanoscale. This field will be getting more and more multidisciplinary and will unavoidably call for out-of-the-box thinking and new hybrid approaches combining conventional electronics with emerging fields of plasmonics, metamaterials, two-dimensional materials, spintronics, hybrid photonic/electronic circuitry and quantum technology. And what can be more exciting than writing a new chapter in nanoscience that will enter the next generation of high-school and college textbooks?
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