An ERA-NET competition on photonic sensing launched on 1st September, with a closing date for stage 1 proposals on 5th December 2016. ERA-NET is a European scheme to build cooperation and coordination of research activities carried out at national or regional level in the Member States. In practical terms this means that activity is funded in each country at the national level, in the UK this is through Innovate.

The photonic sensing competition is open to R&D project consortia consisting of a minimum of two separate legal partners from at least two different participating countries and/or regions as follows:

  • Austria
  • Flanders Region (Belgium)
  • Germany
  • Israel
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Turkey
  • Tuscany Region (Italy) and
  • United Kingdom

The objective of this call is to strengthen the research and development of photonic techniques for the technology readiness levels (TRL) 3-6 (proof of concept to technology demonstration in relevant environment). The competition is aimed at the most relevant sensing technologies with the highest impact on the human life. The following five application areas are in scope:

The sensing of gases in the air we breathe has become increasingly important as society strives to improve quality of life. Current and future legislation, energy conservation, pollution reduction, safety applications and food production are all examples of market drivers for sensor systems. Emerging Smart City and IoT initiatives are likely to be major future contributors to accelerating the growth of the atmospheric gas sensing solution market.

As a physics graduate student in Scotland, you are a SUPA student. This gives you the benefit of being part of a grouping of eight physics departments/schools, and the additional opportunities provided by the SUPA Graduate School. Our goal is to help you to become the best physics graduate students in the world.

The SUPA Graduate School provides you with video conferenced lectures – in the newly upgraded rooms at each university – bringing the expertise of eight universities to your doorstep. Please read through the SUPA Graduate School Student Brochure which contains details of all the courses, what you are expected to complete, and all the information you need to know about being SUPA.

You will most likely be attending several induction events around this time – your local physics department/school, college, university, possibly CDT, and more. These events will provide you with a wealth of information that is designed to help you get the most out of your time as a post-graduate student.

Brexit has thrown up many questions, not least of which is the current and future status of Horizon 2020 and other EU research funding.

The European office of the UK Research Councils – UKRO is seeking guidance and we will provide information when it’s available. A statement from Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, is available on the UK Government website.

Razorbill Instruments is a start-up company that makes cryogenic compatible products that are used as the critical part in various physics experiments. We are, in a very real sense, a SUPA company. Of our three founders, Jack Barraclough, Cliff Hicks and me, Cliff was a SUPA researcher when the company was formed and Jack and I were just graduating from SUPA’s very own Condensed Matter CDT. Ever since the company was officially founded – at the end of 2014 – we’ve kept these very close ties to SUPA. 

John Brown grew up in Dumbarton where he became a stargazing addict at age 10 with the start of The Sky at Night, the launch of Sputnik, the opening  of Jodrell Bank and viewing of Comet Arend-Roland. He started Dumbarton Academy Astronomy Club before entering Glasgow University (GU), with the support of a Student Grant plus a GU Bursary Exam award (12th place).  Following his 1st Class BSc (1968) in Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, during which he did vacation research at ROE (1966) with Michael Smyth and Harvard  (1967) with Gerald Hawkins (“Stonehenge Decoded”)  he was appointed to a 3 year GU Astronomy Dept. Research Assistantship with teaching duties conducting doctoral research  under the supervision of Regius Professor PA Sweet (of Sweet-Parker reconnection and Eddington-Sweet circulation fame). 

HORIBA Jobin Yvon IBH recently marked the official opening of their new premises on Finneston Street Glasgow. Horiba Jobin Yvon IBH Ltd was formed in 2003 when the Strathclyde University spin-off company IBH merged with Horiba Jobin Yvon. Formed in 1819 Jobin Yvon is one of the oldest names in Spectroscopy and IBH are one of the pioneers of physics spin-offs in Scotland having been incorporated in 1977. IBH is now the World’s leading supplier of fluorescence lifetime systems, which, along with fluorescence microscopy and plate readers, are the most rapidly growing parts of the whole fluorescence market. 

Many of us are familiar with the SUPA video conferencing (VC) rooms in each of our institutions.  They are used predominantly to provide the Graduate School courses for SUPA students, but also provide a useful meeting resource for research activities in the less busy times between semesters.

The European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder mission has demonstrated the technology needed to build a space-based gravitational wave observatory.

In what has been an exceptional few months for the field of gravitational wave science, with the first direct detection having been recently announced, [link ‘first direct detection’ to newsletter article on GW detection] the European Space Agency (ESA) has announced the first results from the LISA Pathfinder mission – and they exceed all expectation.

For many years the international gravitational wave community has targeted having ground and space based observatories.  The ground-based network is now operating with mind-boggling sensitivity, and continually improving, such that we have now made the first direct detections of gravitational waves.  But we are only just scratching the surface of the scientific rewards to be harvested from decades of research to date.

Andrew MacKeller-the winner of SUPA Student Poster Competition 2016

A new feature of the 2016 Gathering was a Student Poster Prize Competition. Each of the eight SUPA partner universities nominated a student to present a poster. The prize, sponsored by Kaiam Corporation (Livingston), was judged by a panel comprising three members of the SUPA International Advisory Committee, Professors Ruth Gregory (U.Durham), Anneila Sargent (CalTech) and Malcom Longair (U.Cambridge). All posters presented were of very high quality and the panel were challenged to choose a winner. 

Andrew MacKeller from the Experimental Quantum Optics and Photonics Group of the University of Strathclyde was declared the winner of the 2016 SUPA Student Poster Competition by Professor Sargent with his poster on “Phase-contrast interferometry: Single-shot, phase insensitive readout of an atom interferometer”. In presenting the Prize to Andrew, Professor Sargent commended the poster for its balance between fundamental physics and state-of-the-art technology with a clarity of presentation that leads the reader through the research and its outcomes. 

A research group (Applied Optics and Photonics) led by Professor Duncan Hand at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh has developed a laser-based process for the generation of phase holographic structures directly onto the surface of metal and glass substrates.  The holograms are generated by either only melting or a combination of melting and evaporation, with sub-micron depth control of the hologram individual features (called pixels).  The target application of these ‘tamper-proof’ holograms is security marking of high value products and components in order to reduce the trade in counterfeit goods.

Dr Robert R. Thomson
Institute of Photonics and Quantum Science, Heriot Watt University   Photonics is one SUPA’s strengths, with many world-leading groups across SUPA institutes, investigating the full breadth of photonics research – from fundamentals to applications. The latest SU2P annual symposium, held at Edinburgh University on the 4th & 5th of April, further confirmed that that SUPA is at the forefront of photonic research, and here I give a brief personal perspective of some of the highlights.  

Members of the Institute for Gravitational Research (IGR) and the School on Engineering have published an article in Nature titled: “Measurement of the Earth Tides with a MEMS Gravimeter”. The Earth tides are the elastic deformation of the Earth caused by the changing phase of the Sun and the Moon, and the Glasgow microelectromechanical system – or MEMS - is the first such device to measure this phenomenon (see figure 1). This measurement was possible because the device has an incredible stability compared to existing MEMS accelerometers or seismometers. Consequently it is the first MEMS accelerometer that can be classed as a gravimeter. The MEMS device is etched from a single piece of silicon and consists of a central proof mass suspended from three arched anti-springs (see figure 1). The proof mass moves in response to changing gravitational acceleration and the motion is monitored using a simple optical shadow sensor (see figure 2). The combination of the soft springs, the heavy proof mass, and the accuracy of the motion sensor allows the device to measure changes in little g of 40 parts per billion in an integration time of 1 second (40 μGal/√Hz).






In 2014, Photonics21 published a “multiannual strategic roadmap”, setting out a strategy for European photonics to solve the grand societal challenges and to generate sustainable economic growth in Europe. On a practical level, this document outlined priorities for Horizon2020 funding calls between 2014 and 2020. Photonics21 has continued to refine and update this priorities and propose call topics to the European Commission since then. On the 1st and 2nd March this year, the Photonics21 annual meeting kicked off the process to propose the final photonics calls of Horizon2020, with SUPA and the UK photonics community very much involved.

Recognising the importance of European funding for Scotland’s universities and their industrial partners, the Scottish Funding Council has provided funding, known as PEER, to allow SUPA to compete for EU monies. The funding can be used to provide consultant support for proposals, and to travel for pre-proposal consortium meetings and networking events. Working with the UK Photonics Leadership Group, SUPA made strategic use of the funds for the Photonics21 meeting to ensure that the 7 different Photonics21 Work Groups were covered, and to allow SUPA academics to gain experience of the process by which calls are developed.

The Ultra-low vibration (ULV) labs in St Andrews are the most advanced of its kind in the UK and one of just a handful worldwide. The facility achieves vibration levels which are about two order of magnitude better than the best industry standard. They will allow for atomic scale characterization of the electronic states and magnetic structure in quantum materials. Since opening of the facility in May last year, three bespoke scanning tunnelling microscopes, which were developed by the research group of Dr Wahl, have been installed. The microscopes are operating at very low temperatures down to 7mK and in magnetic fields up to 14T, providing an energy resolution up to 10μeV. For characterization of the materials, a metal tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope is brought within a few atomic radii of a surface and held there with a stability on the order of picometers. It is this stability, which is required over extended periods of time, which necessitates the complex vibration isolation. The research carried out in the facility will aim at understanding unconventional superconductivity in quantum materials. In particular, the group of Dr Peter Wahl has, using these instruments, recently succeeded in imaging the magnetic structure of quantum materials at the atomic scale.

Dr Francisco J Perez Reche, of the Institute for Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology has recently published work in on models inspired by statistical physics to explain explosive social contagion (why things go viral) which has been enthusiastically picked up by the media following the University of Aberdeen’s press release: (

Dr Perez-Reche told us: Some ideas or products are accepted just because they are very convenient. In contrast, other phenomena might not be too appealing at first sight but they end up being accepted by many people overnight. The model suggests that the initial reticence of acquaintances is a key factor for social phenomena to become explosively viral.

Are your friends hesitant to accept an idea? Be ready… it could suddenly catch on!

I'm an STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow working in galaxy evolution and observational cosmology at the School of Physics and Astronomy in St Andrews. I did my undergraduate and PhD at Edinburgh, after which I moved to Portsmouth as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation for 5.5 years. I moved back to Scotland in March 2014 when I took up my current fellowship in St Andrews.

I remember that as I filled in the application form it became clearer and clearer in my mind that I didn’t have much of a hope in receiving the award. But the format of the application is actually quite useful, and similar to applications for other prizes in that it invites you to review significant achievements to date separately to the more typical research proposal. Aware that practice makes perfect, and frankly desperate for some extra research money, I carried on regardless (with, I remember it well, a sick child on my shoulder the whole time). I was delighted to be shortlisted and that boosted my confidence enormously. The interview day, at the Royal Society in London, was a lot of fun in spite of my initial reservations.

Since passing on the SUPA baton to Alan in May I seem to have been busier than ever, mainly in the area of contributing to international planning for the future of the gravitational wave field but also in helping with the preparation of our collaborative consortium grant application to STFC and spending time - but not enough yet - in the lab with our graduate students, with me being taught how to do experimental research in the computer automated era.

So I am back to my old area of helping to measure mechanical loss, and am learning about how to measure thermal conductivities of bonded silicon elements at cryogenic temperatures, as well as solving wave equations for determining the elastic moduli of thin silicate bonds using ultrasonics.

This lab activity is real fun, at least for me – not sure about how the grad students find it (: .

The CM-CDT is a doctoral training partnership between SUPA Condensed Matter physics activities at St Andrews, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities. The CM-CDT has a threefold purpose: to provide students with a rigorous, broad graduate education across the spectrum of Condensed Matter Physics; to train them in skills that equip them for the workplace, be it industrial or academic; and to foster a vibrant, diverse research environment for their PhD projects.  This endeavor is supported by EPSRC, University, Scottish Funding Council and other funding sources.