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Current Research Projects

The Photonics group have a number of research projects.  This page gives an overview of each project for more information use the links in the navigation bar (left-hand column).

Resonant and shaped photonics for understanding the physical and biomedial world (Funder: EPSRC (Programme Grant))

Light has been used for centuries to image the world around us, and continues to provide profound insights across physics, chemistry, biology, materials science and medicine. However, what are the limits of light as a measurement tool? For example, we can use light to image single bacteria, but can we also use light to trap a single bacterium, identify the bacterial strain and assess its susceptibility to antibiotics? How can we image over multiple length scales, from single cells to multiple cellular tissue, in order to comprehensively map all the neuronal connections in the brain? Can we use a combination of resonance with the wave nature and momentum of light to measure the forces associated with the natural and stimulated motion of a single neuronal cell, or even the extremely small forces associated with phenomena at the classical-quantum interface? 

This project aims to answer these questions by exploring new and innovative ways in which we can use light to measure the natural world. This research builds on our recent advances in photonics - the science of generating, controlling and detecting light - and in particular will exploit resonant structures and shaped light. These provide us with tools for controlling the interaction of light and matter with exquisite sensitivity and accuracy. The project runs three research strands in parallel and by combining their outputs, we aim to address major Global Challenges in antimicrobial resistance, neurodegenerative disease, multimodal functional imaging and next generation force, torque and microrheology.

Multiparameter Assay for Profiling Susceptibility (MAPS) (Funder: EPSRC)

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of microbes to evolve resistance against an antimicrobial treatment. For example, a bacterium can develop resistance to an antibiotic medicine, rendering that medicine ineffective in treating and containing the infection. The loss of effective antibiotics will have a significant impact on our lives, not only increasing the chances of developing a serious infection but also increasing the risk associated with medical procedures. The recent O'Neill review predicts "If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine".

While AMR in bacteria occurs naturally over time, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics is accelerating this process. For example, many infections such as tonsillitis are predominantly (80%) viral and can thus not be treated with antibiotics, yet antibiotics are still prescribed. An obvious solution is to introduce new drugs. However, this is not only very costly but it is also inevitable that resistance to any new medicine will develop. 

A promising and sustainable solution to the AMR problem is the introduction of diagnostic tests that not only confirm a bacterial infection but also identify the best antibiotic for treating the infection. The aim of this project is to develop a diagnostic that will ensure the right drugs are prescribed at the right time. The technology, called MAPS, is based on silicon photonics. Although developed originally for use in the communications industry, we have shown that this same technology can be used to monitor biology, including bacteria and proteins, with very high sensitivity. We will exploit this technology to create a diagnostic that will identify the type of bacterium and severity of infection, the presence of resistance mechanisms and the most promising antibiotic for treatment. Working with clinical and industrial collaborators, we will demonstrate and validate the technology for the treatment of urinary tract infections and determine a route for taking it to the market.

Sensors for clean water: a participatory approach for technology innovation (Funder: EPSRC)

Access to clean water is fundamental for life. 

It is estimated that more than 1.5 million children under five years old die every year from diarrhoeal diseases due to unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation. Ensuring the provision of clean water is thus a crucial challenge in low income countries. Yet access to safe drinking water continues to be a challenge globally. For example, in Vanuatu, five thousand households depend on unimproved river, lake or spring water. A consequence of this is a high rate of diarrhoea. Providing clean water across Vanuatu is particularly challenging. This is partly due to the geographical isolation of the many rural communities spread across Vanuatu's 80 islands. Vanuatu is also the most disaster prone country in the world, with a high susceptibility to natural disasters and a low coping capacity. For example, following Tropical Cyclone Pam (March 2015) half the population was without clean drinking water for one month after two thirds of water and sanitation infrastructure was destroyed.

The aim of our research is to work with poor communities in Vanuatu most affected by this problem, in order to develop water monitoring technologies that will provide assurance about the safety of their drinking water. Traditional approaches for technology development, where technologies are developed on behalf people, rather than with and by communities, tend to have limited impact. We plan to take a different approach, an approach we call Integrated Participatory Technology Development (iPTD). iPTD embeds communities at every phase of the technology innovation process, from defining the initial technology specification, through to design, testing, and optimization. By working with communities from the outset, we will ensure sensing technology that is designed precisely to meet the needs, skills and environment in which the community live.

Ultrafast Laser Plasma Implantation - Seamless Integration of Functional Materials for Advanced Photonics (SeaMatics) (Funder: EPSRC)

SeaMatics is an "advanced materials manufacturing project for photonic integrated circuits" for a range of emerging applications in optical communication, sensors, imaging technology for healthcare, and lighting. Unlike the integration in electronic circuits in which electrons flow seamlessly, in photonic integrated circuits the light does not flow seamlessly due to refractive index mismatch and materials dissimilarity. In order to facilitate a way forward for fabricating light circuits, the SeaMatics team will exploit a novel "ultrafast laser plasma implantation (ULPI)" based technique for fabricating complex structures, using rare-earth ion doped glass, polymers, silicon and GaAs semiconductors.

The project is led by the University of Leeds and is supported by four academic partners the Universities of York, Sheffield and Cambridge in the respective areas of research on silicon photonics, III-V semiconductors, and polymeric devices. The EPSRC National Centre for III-V Technologies will be accessed for materials and device fabrication.

Eleven industry partners directly involved in the project are: DSTL, GTS/British Glass, Glucosense/NetScientific, Product Evolution, PVD Products, CST, IQE, Dow Corning, Xyratex, Gooch and Housego and Semtech. These industry links cover from materials manufacturing to optical components and their applications in optical/data communication, sensors for healthcare, energy for lighting.

Project Objectives

  1. Set up a ULPI manufacturing capability at Leeds which will serve the needs of academic and industrial communities in the UK to start with and then expand for international collaboration.
  2. Our first application led manufacturing example will demonstrate ULPI based rare-earth doped glass photonic circuits with light splitting, lasing and amplification functions on a chip.
  3. In another example we will demonstrate electrically pumped semiconductor lasers (VCSEL and VECSEL) integrated with rare-earth ion doped glass for broadband and tunable lasers.
  4. Approaches developed in 2) and 3) will be then expanded for manufacturing larger scale photonic integrated circuits on silicon, embodying multiple functions using the techniques developed in 1).
  5. ULPI as a technique will be applied for engineering a novel range of polymer-glass sensor devices which will be used for health care.
  6. The final goal of the project is to provide training, dissemination, and outreach opportunities for new researchers in SeaMatics. Dissemination related activities will be via the standard peer-review publications in prestigious journals, conferences and workshops. Dedicated symposia are planned for dissemination, and also the outreach activities involving UG/PG internships, PhD students and Sixth form pupils.

More information can be found on the projects official website here.


The White Rose Industrial Physics Academy (WRIPA) is a partnership between the White Rose universities of York and Sheffield and technical industries that aims to enhance the industry-relevant skills of physics graduates. The Academy will achieve this goal by conducting industry-led undergraduate projects, enhancing the industry-focus of the taught curriculum and by organising joint events. The methods we aim to develop will be disseminated  firstly to associated Yorkshire Universities and then to the wider HE sector, including outreach to secondary schools. The outcome will be a better flow of graduates into technical careers, a stronger relationship between industries and university physics departments and economic success for the partner companies.



Past Projects

Challenging the limits (Funder: EPSRC)

Convention teaches us that the focussing of light is constrained by the Abbé diffraction limit, that light penetrates tissue poorly due to Rayleigh and Mie scattering and that collimated, coherent light emission requires a laser. By challenging such established conventions with a transformative understanding of the fundamentals of light propagation, we aim to create a paradigm shift; while the 20th century was the century of the electron, we firmly  believe that the 21st will be the century of the photon. In order to realise this vision, we need to explore the fundamental concepts of coherently shaping light in phase, amplitude and polarisation - structuring light - to unveil  startling advances. In particular, the structuring and shaping of light will break through perceived limits and open up the next generation of opportunities, particularly in the burgeoning areas of healthcare and biophotonics. Four  projects will run in parallel and by combining their outputs, we aim to overcome current limits in photonics and address major challenges such as super-resolution microscopy, nanoscopic sensing, single cell proteomics,  ubiquitous laser-like sources, spatially controlled optogenetics, therapy and imaging at depth.

More information can be found on the projects official website here.

TARGeTED: Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance through Goal-orientated Thinking in the EPS Disciplines (Funder: EPSRC)

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a serious threat to human and animal health. The problem is multifactorial, spans across many disciplines and involves stakeholders from right across society's spectrum. Our belief is that by engaging researchers from different disciplines, we can ask new questions and develop new solutions to the AMR challenge. Scientists engaged in EPS can bring novel insights and innovative technologies to many aspects of the AMR challenge but there are barriers to their engagement with goal-orientated, inter-disciplinary research. We have identified the conditions that lead to successful inter-disciplinary research outcomes; receptiveness, understanding, communication, resources and networks. We have put together a programme of activities that will create the time and space for researchers from EPS to engage in thinking about the AMR challenge in such a way that they will be able to identify tractable problems that they can solve. To start with we will focus on areas of research excellence currently being conducted at the University of York that have not to date been applied to AMR research, but promise to provide new insights and innovative solutions. These areas are 'Novel tools for understanding and controlling bacterial behaviour' and 'Novel biosensors and diagnostics'. We recognize that a successful 'Bridging the Gap' programme will bring together collaborations between researchers not yet engaged with the AMR agenda and we have incorporated into our activities strategies to reach these people. The outcome will be an exciting community of inter-disciplinary researchers working on the challenges of AMR that are communicating, sparking ideas, writing papers and applying for further funding.

Flex-Alpha (Funder: Innovate UK)

The UK has a long-standing commitment to decommissioning legacy nuclear plants. The expense of dealing with equipment coming out of such plants is strongly dictated by whether it can be shown to be free of radioactive contamination since material can then be treated as regular scrap rather than low-level radioactive waste. It is not presently straightforward to evaluate piping at sites like Sellafield and show that it does not contain low levels of contamination from radioactive materials associated with the emission of alpha particles. It is difficult to measure such contamination on the inside of pipes as detectors need to be placed inside the pipe and in close contact with the walls. Flex-Alpha entails the development of a novel detector which can efficiently evaluate the interior of pipes and determine which are contaminated and which are not. This will lead to significant cost savings in the nuclear decommissioning industry.

Project Objectives

  1. Develop a novel detector system for use in detecting the presence of alpha-particle emitting radionuclides inside pipes in close collaboration with Kromek PLC
  2. Lead the testing of the new detectors using in-house expertise in radiation detection and measurement

PROPHET (Funder: EU)

PROPHET (Postgraduate Research on Photonics as an Enabling Technology) is an Initial Training Network funded by the EU Framework Programme 7 Marie Curie Actions, which aims to train the next generation of photonics  researchers in the full range of skills required for a multi-disciplinary, industry-focused career in photonics. The PROPHET network constitutes 9 academic partners, 4 industry partners and 2 associated partners. The network will  train a cohort of 14 early stage researchers and 5 young experienced researchers in the full gamut of skills required for a career in photonics, including materials growth, device fabrication, characterisation, design, theory, and commercialisation. These skills will be applied in four application areas; mode-locked lasers for Communications Applications, solar cells for Energy Applications, gas sensing for Environment Applications, and fast tunable laser  sources for OCT in Life Science Applications. Each researcher will experience both academic and commercial environments thanks to the strong industrial involvement, resulting in multi-skilled, industry-focused graduates.

More information can be found on the projects official website here.

LRS Assay (Funder: BBSRC)

The aim of this project is to develop a new analytical tool that we call a Label-free, Real-time, Spatial-resolution (LRS) immunoassay, which is capable of mapping, in real-time, the spatial distribution of key signaling molecules excreted from a multicellular tissue culture. As a particular example, we will map the secretion of cytokines in immune response. We will achieve this aim by collaborating with experts in stromal cell biology and by using our expertise in the design, fabrication and characterization of photonic crystal immunosensors.