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Volume 1, 2012

“I see myself as the bridge between groups.” Pepijn Pinkse, program director of Applied NanoPhotonics comes straight to the point. “And I always make certain that young researchers work not only in one but in two groups. That’s how you teach them to work with multidisciplinary skills.”

Applied NanoPhotonics is one of the five strategic Research Orientations in which MESA+ has organised its research. A Strategic Research Orientation (SRO) is a new field of research which is being investigated and developed, and has links with several of the institute’s research groups.

Pepijn Pinkse is pleased with these Strategic Research Orientations: “Collaboration is second to none here; there is no ‘pushiness’ and no ‘own territory’ to defend. MESA+ers are not selfish people. If I happen to need a laser costing a hundred thousand euros, I can just borrow it. That was out of the question when I was in Garching.”

Pepijn Pinkse conducted research in Germany for eleven years and returned to the Netherlands in 2009: “As program director it is my job to act in the common interest. The fact that I’m from somewhere else, that I’m not from one of the research groups here, certainly helps. I am impartial.”

Pinkse organises monthly meetings for the eighty or so researchers in the five Applied NanoPhotonics research groups. Two researchers give lectures, and when they have finished some of the researchers sit at tables with small posters while others circulate to discuss with and help the others. Pinkse is proud of his meetings: “They are attended by a loyal group of forty, fifty people and often result in unexpected teamwork. Walking around I maybe hear someone say: “Hey, are you looking for a spectrometer? I have one for you in the basement.” That’s quite fantastic, don’t you think?”

Technology from the one group and knowledge from the other

In the room occupied by Pepijn Pinkse, program director of Applied NanoPhotonics, we see two experiments that say everything about his field of study. The first experiment is a windmill positioned inside a glass bell that runs on light. And yet it turns in exactly the opposite direction you might expect at first sight. Pinkse explains with enthusiastic gestures that two processes counteract and that the one process defeats the other: “I am driven by curiosity. If there’s something I don’t understand I need to figure it out and then share that knowledge with others.”

The second experiment shows powdered milk floating in a rapidly alternating electrical field. Pinkse: “By the way, that powdered milk is much larger than nano; more micro. Yet it does illustrate what we want to achieve on the nano scale: to allow nano particles to float so that we can study them better.”

In actual fact the word nanophotonics – nano and photonics – seems to be a contradiction. Photons move at wavelengths of hundreds of nanometres and according to some definitions you may not refer to that as nano. Pinkse neither agrees nor disagrees. “The most interesting effects occur if you confront light with its own scale. Here at MESA+ we are engaged in investigating a slice of crystal with holes that are so small that light is reflected back and forth inside them and even stands still. That photonic crystal immediately becomes a perfect

example of multidisciplinarity. The research involved combines technology from the one group and knowledge from the other. MESA+ makes this combined research possible.”

Name: Pepijn Pinkse (1970)
Position: Program Director Applied NanoPhotonics at MESA +
Previously: Studied physics in Leiden, obtained his doctorate from the University of Amsterdam and was senior researcher at the German Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik
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