Postgraduate Projects

Postgraduate Projects

Special emphasis is placed on facilitating postgraduate training of Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students in optical physics and photonics. As part of their project, successful applicants will be eligible for significant funds to support  conference and/or field work travel costs, project needs, computers and other research expenses. The MQ Photonics Research Centre is now seeking new postgraduate HDR (Higher Degree by Research) students who are interested in doing research with us.

If you are interested in doing a PhD or Masters in Research within the MQ Photonics Research Centre, please apply by:

1) Selecting a project from the list below (or alternatively search research areas for topics that interest you).

2) Express your interest to the named research group leader or nominated project contact person.

3) In consultation with prospective supervisor, you will then apply for candidature. Information and instructions on how to submit an application can be found on the Higher Degree Research Office website and the application form is available here.

If you are seeking a scholarship, there are many opportunities available on a competitive basis. For scholarship information please visit the MQ Photonics Scholarship Opportunities webpage.

You may also contact the Science Higher Degree Research Team if you need assistance with scholarship or admission procedures.

Examples of current projects on offer:

PhD Projects Available

Application of Pulsed Vacuum-Ultraviolet Photon Sources to Surface Science of Glass and Medical Polymers

Dr Robert Carman, Prof Deb Kane

Macquarie University has a patented, platform technology for plasma based, high-peak-power, pulsed vacuum-ultraviolet photon sources which have broad range of application. This project will investigate how the pulse shape and pulse length emitted by a Xenon source at 172 nm affect the surface science of optical material and medical polymer surfaces. The project will involve moderate power scaling of the Xenon plasma-based source and experiment and theory of the photonic/surface interactions that lead to modified surface parameters. These modified surface parameters are predicted to be favourable in many of the commercial applications of the materials investigated.


Ultrafast mid-infrared fibre lasers

Dr Alex Fuerbach, A/Prof Stuart Jackson

The mid-infrared (3 µm to 30 mm) is an area of research within optics that is growing rapidly. The challenge to create efficient mid-infrared laser photons is driven by the vast number of applications that could potentially benefit from operating in the mid-infrared. All chemical and biological compounds that are relevant to our health, our security and the environment interact strongly with light at mid-infrared wavelengths. This project aims to optimise the performance of ultrafast mid-infrared fibre laser oscillators for higher efficiency, higher energy and shorter pulse durations. Furthermore, the proposed project will create efficient diode-pumped fluoride glass fibre amplifiers for the creation of a master oscillator power amplifier (MOPA) for power and energy scaling of the ultrafast mid-infrared pulses. Experiments in material modification and nonlinear optics using narrow bandgap glasses and crystals will employ the MOPA in the final phase of the project.


High Energy Femtosecond Oscillators

Dr Alex Fuerbach, Dr David Spence

The aim of this project is to investigate methods to generate ultrashort laser pulses at MHz repetition rate with energies approaching the microjoule range. Potential schemes which will be studied include, but are not limited to, extended-cavity oscillators, cavity-dumped systems and/or quasi-continuous wave (cw) amplifiers. Techniques to shorten the achievable pulse duration based on spectral broadening due to self-phase modulation in photonic crystal fibres will be developed. The candidate will closely collaborate with one of the leading manufacturers of femtosecond laser sources and will thus have the opportunity to gain experience in an academic as well as in an industrial research environment.


Integrated mid-infrared femtosecond waveguide lasers

Dr Alex Fuerbach, Prof Mick Withford

Our group has developed a state of the art femtosecond laser-direct write processing facility that enables the fabrication of both waveguides and reflective structures (gratings) inside actively doped transparent dielectrics. Based on these unique capabilities, we are seeking a PhD student who will investigate different techniques to realise novel integrated modelocked waveguide lasers operating in the mid-infrared. This project will include the fabrication of depressed-clading waveguide-lasers in fluoride-glasses and the integration of novel materials like nanosheet topological insulators as saturable absorbers.


Diamond Photonics

A/Prof Rich Mildren

Diamonds have highly unusual and extreme properties that are ideal for creating a new class active laser components with potential applications ranging from biomedicine, defence and environmental sensing. The MQ Photonics Research Centre is seeking a PhD student to investigate the development of novel side-pumped diamond Raman lasers and waveguide micro-resonators for diamond Raman lasers systems. The candidate will have the opportunity to create new devices as well as pursue applications. We are a growing team of researchers aspiring to break new ground in diamond optics, laser physics, micro-optical systems and nonlinear Raman interactions.


Nano- and atom-scale structuring of diamond using 2-photon induced carbon ejection

A/Prof Rich Mildren, Dr James Downes

Optical techniques for processing materials with a resolution less than the wavelength of light have advanced significantly in recent years. However, despite the highly selective nature of light-matter interactions, efforts to increase resolution towards the atomic scale are hampered by diffusion of the absorbed energy into the surrounding matrix. We have recently shown that diamond surfaces exhibit the remarkable capability to be patterned using ultraviolet lasers with ultra-precise depth and lateral resolution (Nature Commun. 2013). Furthermore, the detailed shape of structures depends sensitively on the polarization with respect to lattice bond directions. This PhD project is aimed to further understand the mechanism underpinning the atom removal process and to exploit the technique to demonstrate a range of novel diamond processing capabilities. These include fabrication of nano-scale optical elements, precision atomic-layer removal for surface electronics and complex 3D micro-structures made of diamond. It is aimed to develop techniques for solving current challenges in fabrication of diamond devices for future applications spanning a range of disciplines. The project will provide excellent experience in a broad range of scientific skills spanning optics, surface physics and nano-engineering.


Nonlinear Dynamics of Semiconductor Lasers

Prof Deb Kane

A range of projects topics are available in experimental nonlinear laser dynamics and related theory and data analysis. Currently, the group is leading a number of national and international research collaborations, in addition to advancing our own experimental program. The latter is primarily focussed on the diverse dynamics of a range of nonlinear laser systems. The diversity within a single system and from different systems lend the systems to broad ranging applications in communications and imaging. Increasingly it is the analysis and understanding of the complexity of the systems that is transferable to other areas of science such as climate change, physiology and finance. External funding support for the area is currently provided by a SIEF Round 4 project grant joint between NICTA, Sirca, Macquarie University and Sydney University. This project will be at the forefront of laser nonlinear dynamics research, internationally. The project will develop experimental, theoretical and collaborative research skills.


Laser Supported Techniques for Conservation in Art and Cultural Heritage

Prof Deb Kane

New and modified laser processing techniques continue to be researched for a myriad of applications in industrial, art and cultural heritage conservation, and environmental contexts. This project will research laser processing solutions for several identified problems in Australian Indigenous and Pacific cultural heritage conservation and textile cleaning. Pigment de-adhesion is a particularly serious issue for traditional Aboriginal bark paintings. The project will involve collaboration with conservation scientist and conservators in Museums and Art Galleries. All the studies will be completed as quantitative science and can be presented internationally as laser-materials interactions research. Publications in high quality journals will result. New laser processing solutions will be an outcome. The project will develop experimental, theoretical and collaborative research skills.


Photonics of Certain Spider Orb Webs

Prof Deb Kane, Dr Alex Fuerbach

Opportunities exist for students to complete research on the photonics and optics of certain spider orb webs. Considering orb webs, constructed in bright environments, as an optical as well as a mechanical device is informing new hypotheses on their function. The optical materials of this subset of webs are highly birefringent, highly dispersive, have high optical nonlinearity and represent a natural, self assembled protein. As an optical material it is nanocomposite in form and an excellent source for biomimetic innovation ideas. Projects can range from theoretical simulation of optical elements from the webs, researching new micro-optical techniques to measure the optical properties, through to micro- and nano-scale microscopy with an emphasis on understanding the physics of the microscopy techniques in interpreting physical characteristics from microscopy images. The project will develop experimental, theoretical and collaborative research skills.


Optical Surface Profiling for Measuring Nano-objects and Devices

Prof Deb Kane, Dr Doug Little

We have demonstrated that optical surface profiling instruments – based on phase shifting interference microscopy can be used to measure key size parameters of nano-objects – such as the diameter of nanowires. Further high impact research will extend this technique to measuring refractive index of nano-objects in addition to pushing the technique to its limits. It is predicted we should be able to measure size parameters of nano-objects as small as a few nanometres. Additionally, new optical surface profiling experimental techniques for application to active optoelectronic devices will be researched. Through transmissive media capability of the state-of-the-art NT9800 optical surface profiler facility will be utilised. The type of measurements that are planned have never been undertaken before anywhere in the world. The student will build broad experimental capability with sophisticated experimental techniques and develop theoretical understanding of the physics underpinning the project in order to perform thorough and high level analysis and interpretation of project data. This project will suit a student looking for an opportunity to develop broad and multiple research capabilities.


Building new device capabilities for Continuous-wave Intracavity Raman Lasers

A/Prof Helen Pask, A/Prof David Spence

Diode pumped crystalline Raman lasers offer a practical and efficient approach to generating laser output at wavelengths that are not easily accessible by conventional laser sources. Raman lasers are unique in a number of ways and the physics involved gives rise to interesting and unusual effects, such as wavelength-selectable operation. A PhD project is available to investigate Continuous-wave Intracavity Raman lasers operating in the visible and near infrared. Of particular interest is power scaling to levels above 10 Watts, efficiency scaling of high and low power systems, device miniaturisation and single longitudinal mode operation. These goals will be pursued through a combination of experimental and numerical modelling studies. This project will suit a motivated student interested in optical physics, resonator design, non-linear optics, and the development of laser sources that can be applied to real world problems.


Ultrafast THz Raman Lasers

A/Prof David Spence, Dr Andrew Lee

We are collaborating with a UK company M Squared Lasers to use Raman laser science to expand the capability of standard ultrafast laser sources. We aim to use Raman and polariton scattering to generate picosecond terahertz output from standard picosecond laser sources such as Ti:S or Nd:YVO4. This PhD project will train you with skills in ultrafast lasers, nonlinear optics, and THz optics, and includes opportunity for both experimental work and numerical modelling. We will look to use the sources we develop in simple THz applications.


Developing the ‘Ti:Sapphire of the UV’: New femtosecond laser sources in the deep ultraviolet

A/Prof David Spence, A/Prof David Coutts

Ultrafast ‘femtosecond’ lasers are work-horses of optical science. They are used as ‘strobes’ to freeze fast action on unprecedentedly short timescales. They can be used to drive high-power physics experiments, such as ionizing plasmas, and can be used to machine metals and glasses. The ubiquitous femtosecond laser is the Ti:Sapphire laser; it operates only in the infra-red spectral region, and experimenters can find this limiting their studies. We are developing the world’s first femtosecond laser source operating in the ultraviolet. Based on a crystal doped with cerium, these lasers have the potential to directly generate pulses as short as 3 femtoseconds at 290 nm, and there is the potential to further shorten the output to achieve attosecond pulses. This is an exciting project, applying the knowledge and experience gained with the industry-standard Ti:Sapphire lasers to this new laser material that has been dubbed ‘the Ti:Sapphire of the UV’.


Guided Wave Polymer Optics

Prof Graham Town

The aim of this project is to develop novel and inexpensive guided-wave polymer optical devices (e.g. optical fibres and integrated-optical devices) by clever microstructuring of novel nanocomposite materials (i.e. with tailored optical properties, including gain) for applications in optical sensing, switching, and telecommunications. Polymer devices have the advantage of being relatively bio-friendly, are relatively inexpensive to process, and are more readily modified to achieve specific optical properties than materials such as silica. The project will support continuing ARC and DEST funded work in the areas of microstructured (or “holey”) optical fibres and materials development with collaborators in the UK and Australia.

Contact or refer to the research group webpage.

Applications of Multiwavelength Fibre Lasers

Prof Graham Town, Dr Ken Grant, DSTO

Multiwavelength fibre lasers are of interest for their narrow linewidth and compact construction. Simultaneous lasing of several single longitudinal modes in a fibre laser was recently demonstrated by Macquarie University researchers (Pradhan et al, Opt. Lett 31(20) 2961 (2006)). Such lasers have significant advantages in sensing systems, e.g. in signal-to-noise-ratio and selectivity. The aim of this project is to develop applications of the latter laser, e.g. in distance measurement, spectroscopy, and microwave photonics (e.g. wireless distribution technology).

Contact or refer to the research group webpage.

Polymer Fibre Sensors

Prof Graham Town

A novel type of microstructured polymer fibre has recently been demonstrated at Macquarie University (R.M. Chaplin, G.E. Town, M.J. Withford, D. Baer, Proc. Integrated Photonics Research and Applications Topical Meeting (IPRA) and Nanophotonics Topical Meeting, Uncasville, May 24-28, NFC4, 2006). The aim of this project is to develop applications for this and other microstructured polymer fibres as sensing devices, particularly for in-vivo biomedical sensing. In such applications microstructured polymer fibres have some significant advantages over alternative technologies, e.g. the voids in holey fibres may be filled with fluid or used to pump small quantities of fluid into/out of the region of interest, polymer fibres have a much larger breaking strain than silica fibres, and polymer is significantly more “bio-friendly” than glass fibres. This project will investigate how these advantages may be exploited in biomedical and/or environmental sensing applications.

Contact or refer to the research group webpage.

Laser Direct Writing of Photonic Devices: Investigation of laser-induced modification of glass

Prof Michael Withford, Dr Alex Fuerbach

Laser direct write micro-fabrication, where an ultrafast laser is focussed to a small, intense spot, and translated under computer control with respect to a target sample, can be used to modify the internal properties of bulk glass substrates and write “optical wires” (or waveguides) and discrete components such as amplifiers and filters. To date it is unclear what role the thermal history of the glass host has on this process. The project will undertake detailed studies investigating the influence between this aspect and the quality of photonic devices inscribed in key photonic glasses, as part of a large collaboration with our partners in a Marie Curie International Research Exchange Scheme: University Paris-Sud, Friedrich Schiller University and University of Southampton.


Ultrafast laser Direct Writing of Novel Waveguide Lasers

Prof Michael Withford, Dr Peter Dekker, A/Prof Mike Steel

Our group has developed a state of the art femtosecond laser-direct write processing facility that enables the fabrication of both waveguides and reflective structures (gratings) inside a range of passive and active glasses. This project will investigate both fibre and planar (written with the aforementioned facility) waveguide amplifiers, and develop processing strategies for integrating gratings within waveguide amplifiers. The end goal will be the realization of single and multi-wavelength waveguide lasers for defence and biophotonic applications. Our collaborators include the University of Adelaide.


Making light and sound work together in nanoscale optical chips

A/Prof. Michael Steel

These days we tend to think of communication by sound as primitive compared to the wonders of optical communication. In fact, “optoacoustics”, or the study of light-sound interactions, is one of the hottest topics in integrated nonlinear optics. While photons tend to be protected from the environment, mechanical sound waves or “phonons” interact strongy with the environment and can couple back to light waves making an interface between optics and the wider world. Phonons also underpin Stimulated Brillouin Scattering, the strongest of all optical nonlinearities. By harnessing these interactions in compact semiconductor chips, we will obtain completely new opportunities for sensing, ultra high-speed electronics and new ultra-narrow laser sources. We can even exploit sound-light connections at the fully quantum level to create new states of light.

The fundamental theoretical obstacle is that light and sound waves often refuse to coexist in the same waveguide: structures that confine light are leaky for sound and vice versa. This theoretical project will build new mathematical formalisms at the boundary of quantum and classical nonlinear optics to solve the mutual confinement problem of sound and light, and truly open up optoacoustic nonlinearities. From this starting point, we will exploit the interplay of crystal structure and optical dispersion to enable new approaches to optical frequency conversion and control of quantum entanglement. The impact of topological and nonreciprocal propagation effects adds further theoretical richness. The work will involve both analytic and numerical work and interact closely with a world-leading experimental program.

Contact: and refer to the research webpage.

Smart design and optimisation of 3D optical waveguides for astronomy and quantum science

A/Prof. Michael Steel, Prof. Michael Withford

Direct writing of optical waveguides with femtosecond lasers has brought about a new generation of unique three-dimensional (3D) optical devices with applications in astronomy, quantum physics and optical communications. Our group is a world leader in the design and application of such structures. The enormous freedom of 3D structures, with literally hundreds or thousands of design parameters, means that conventional approaches to design cannot adequately identify the most efficient or effective structures.

This project will develop innovative numerical techniques using ideas from convex optimisation theory to enable a completely new level of capability for laser-written 3D waveguide devices. Depending on the interests of the student, the project could be purely theoretical, working in partnership with experimental students, or could be partly experimental addressing the entire process from design to fabrication and physical characterisation. Similarly, the student can determine whether they wish to target advances in quantum devices, optical processing or astronomy. The project will use advanced computational facilities including supercomputers and GPU techniques and exploit our 250m2 laboratory suite of state of the art optical fabrication and test equipment.

Contact: and refer to the research webpage.

Extreme nonlinear optics in a tiny piece of glass

A/Prof. Michael Steel, Prof. Michael Withford, Dr Luke Helt

One of the most exciting developments in recent photonics is the rise of direct-write optical waveguides: channels for guiding and processing light written directly in chips of glass by powerful femtosecond lasers. The 3D geometry allows waveguides to twist around each other in complex patterns, allowing numerous applications in quantum optics, communications and astronomy. However, while understanding of linear devices is quite mature, the potential for nonlinear effects in direct-write waveguides has barely been explored.

In this project, we will model, design, fabricate and test a new class of highly nonlinear waveguides written into exotic strongly nonlinear glasses. We will explore the use wavefront engineering to design the nonlinear response at will and engineer the transverse mode structure to control the interplay of nonlinearity and dispersion. The devices will be applied to frontier problems in quantum information, frequency conversion and ultra-broadband light sources.

Contact: and refer to the research webpage.

High-Q Mechanical Resonators

Research Field: Condensed Matter, Materials Science
Supervisors: Dr James Downes and Prof Jason Twamley

The field of optomechanics – where one studies the interaction of light forces with mechanical moving objects has recently enjoyed a huge surge of interest. Much of the reason for this interest comes from the desire to explore new physical systems where novel physical effects appear but also to build exquisitely precise sensors for magnetic/electric etc fields. To reach exciting new regions of physics and possible high precision sensing one seeks to develop mechanical motional oscillators which possess as little damping as possible i.e. with high motional Q-uality factors. One way to achieve this is via mechanical resonators which have no mechanical contact with their surroundings e.g. are levitated/trapped in space. The typical method to achieve this is via optical tweezers but such trapping comes with some difficulties relating to laser noise possibly heating the motion of the mechanical oscillator. In this project we will develop passive trapping of particles in ultra-high-vacuum. These particles will be stably trapped and oscillate in space. The goal of this project will be towards achieving ultra-high motional Quality factors and high motional frequencies for these trapped mechanical oscillators and to determine the feasibility to use such oscillators for sensitive metrology. The project will be primarily experimental in nature but will also require some theory/numerics to develop/fit the theory to the experiment.

Extension scope:
This project probes an exciting new area of meso/nanoscopic control – mechanical trapped systems. This new field of research has a wealth of novel phenomena to be explored, understood and utilised for a variety of purposes eg. ultra-sensitive sensing. It is expected that there are extensions of this project to multiple PhD projects also with the potential for national/international collaborations.

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