Portuguese Scientist Talks About Optical Technologies
During the METANANO-2016 conference, Mario Silverinya, a scientist from the University of Lisbon, talked about the possibilities of topological effects in continuous systems — something that was deemed impossible not so long ago. This can lead to the creation of wave guides where light won’t dissipate, as well as contribute to technologies for decreasing the size and increasing efficiency of electronic components. In an interview for our portal, he spoke of light manipulation and the importance of popularizing science.
Usually, it’s hard to explain what metamaterials and nanophotonics are about without giving some practical examples. What problems does such research solve?
The most essential trend is making electronic devices — cell phones, PCs — smaller. That is why scientists have to find ways of manipulating light and electrons, so they can work in small, even nano-sized elements. To achieve that, we have to «squeeze» light waves. What for? This will allow us to increase the efficiency of electronic devices at the nanolevel. This is what our group in Portugal works on. This problem can be solved by creating new devices or modernizing existing ones. Sometimes, new ideas and possibilities for that come from a different field of physics.
Can you tell us about your work in more detail?
My work also involves the question of transporting light with no energy losses or dissipation even in waveguides that have surface defects. Many other teams worldwide work on this as well. We are also interested in creating waveguides with a repeater. We study the subject by making comparisons between physical phenomena. For instance, you have a physical body — a metal shield, and one more of the same kind. When they rub against each other, they generate light. And this process can be used in repeaters for enhancing optical signals. But that can't be mechanical movement, as we are talking about nanoscale elements. Still, we can use such phenomena as electron drift. This initiates electron movement that results in generating light. This new technology can be used in repeaters, including those that use metamaterials, graphene, for instance. I do fundamental research on this subject.
What is the future of metamaterials?
Surely, one of the most widely known trends is making materials with invisibility properties — like Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak. But there is a lot more to the field than just invisibility technologies — those are no more than 1% of the research. ITMO’s work on MRI-Scanners is a very significant development for medical applications of metamaterials. All the inventions that have to do with real life applications are promising.
How to attract sponsors?
Explaining what you do and giving real examples is essential. A scientist can have great ideas, but that won't get him anywhere if he can't explain his purpose. Even if this is about something essential for further research. You can't always implement this or that research right on the spot. Sometimes your results have a long-lasting effect and become a basis for other important works that are to be implemented. We try to pass our enthusiasm to those who finance our research, as well.
Are there any problems with the popularization of science in Portugal?
Yes, there are. To solve them, we conduct different scientific events where we try to explain complex things with simple words. General public has to know more about science, so we have to inform them of the latest research, the results and reasons for it. We don't do that at events like METANANO, but they serve a different purpose — they allow us to find new ideas in adjacent areas.