Short term opportunities for female researchers

Hey folks!

I am delighted to say that through APEC there are a few 1-4 month research fellowships for women researchers.

Participants from Chile, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Papua New Guinesa, Philippines, and Viet Nam can apply. See below for more details.

Those interested in some Photonics and modelling work  at UTS with me, please drop me a line:

2.1 Eligibility

To be eligible to receive the fellowship, applicants must:

  •  Be a female citizen and/or permanent resident of eligible APEC economies
  •  Not be an Australian citizen and/or permanent resident
  •  Have a conferred PhD degree by 1 April 2018
  •  Available to commence their proposed program between 1 July 2018 and 31 December 2018
  •  Provide all relevant supporting documentation in English
  • Obtain agreement from an academic supervisor from an Australian academic institution and/or organisation
  •  Not be undertaking research or training that leads to a formal qualification between 1 July 2018 and 31 December 2018

2.3 Financial Benefits (From $8,000 to $23,300 AUD per fellowship)

All recipients will receive in Australian Dollars:

  •  Travel allowance: $3,000 for Asian economies and $4,500 for South American economies
  •  Establishment allowance: $2,000
  •  Monthly stipend: $3,000
  •  Monthly family allowance: $1,200 (if applicable)



The Journal of an academic nomad

Setting up professional life in a new country and a new  department after having lived elsewhere for a long time is a bit like climbing a  tricky mountain.

Do you know one of those mountains which has several ridges and switchbacks?  so you are constantly having to turn around and feel like you haven’t  really reached very far even though you’ve been climbing for hours!

First of all it’s never about the professional life alone.  you need to do simple things like find a place to live, furniture, get the Internet connected… all those little things  you take for granted in a home.  the logistics can add spice of not knowing the area sufficiently and bumbling along constantly, being tripped up by the smallest things:  getting off at the wrong bus stop,  choosing the worst company or provider for a service et cetera.   The emotional toll it takes  to manage in an environment  that is completely new and in some ways alien is not something that we reckon with until we come across it.  By then the only way to deal with it is to soldier through. Of course these things are part of the fun  even if it doesn’t feel very funny at the time!

Trying to get all this sorted in parallel with setting up a new lab is pretty challenging.

For me the biggest challenge has been ( in the professional bit) to  find appropriate manpower.  in my previous lab I had set up:  computers, software and most importantly good PhD students.  PhD students are the lifeblood of any lab and research:  without them it almost impossible to sustain work.  It takes time to find good students and effort to train them and build a good partnership  that is fruitful for both student and supervisor. In a new  department the challenge is to find  funding sources  And mechanisms to recruit PhD students and then  training them ( I’m  not spending  lines on issues like Visa processing et cetera).   The time it takes to achieve just the setting up means almost up to  a year can pass before you have a good student  in place and longer before some meaningful research output can be delivered.

 Yet there is excitement: there is the chance to work with new partners who have different perspectives and  new facilities,  new research problems.  There is a palpable sense of possibilities, of the future... which keeps beckoning you  onwards and helps provide the incentive to whether through the  birthing pains.  Just as I  said earlier this comes with the  other aspects of life: discovering a new city, new food,  art!

All in all the  the fun and the less fun bits go together-  and in the process there is a  huge amount of personal growth having gone through all of this.




A new place and a new chapter

Hi all!

You must have thought I’ve become the world’s laziest person- with no updates or blogposts for so long.

Well I am happy to report it wasn’t my inherent laziness alone that was reason for the


moving! taken from link.

radio silence: I have moved jobs, countries and continents!

So I have much to share: I have now moved to Sydney, Australia where I have joined University of Technology Sydney (UTS) as Associate Professor and also Director of the Women in Engineering and IT (WiEIT) programme.

After living in London for 12 years the move is huge and took all my energy and time for the last 6 months. If anyone out there is thinking of moving for a postdoc, or  PhD read on- this experience might be interesting for you!

From the cold (it was snowing the day the packers came to pack my stuff for shipping) in London to 40C in Sydney, and a few thousand miles, 11 hour time difference it’s been about a new chapter in life or a whole new life (who knows I might become a lines umpire on the WTA tour now?). I had never been to Australia (or Oz as I like calling it) before and quite literally I jumped into the unknown for this role.

What drove me?

The role which combined science research and work on diversity was just too good to pass up. It gives me the opportunity to try and change things and be paid for it!!

Also I like  adventure: new people, places, food… so why not!

Much as the experience is exciting, it is also scary. I spend my time part terrified and part gawping (how they can expect me to work- the sun is shining!). When moving so far away you leave a lot behind: friends, family, colleagues, familiar places and knowledge of a system. You swap it for excitement, new opportunities and a degree of pain. It’s hard work to learn a new system and it’s rules. There is a different culture and lingo, new people and you feel out of your comfort zone. You miss home – or what used to be home till a few days ago, and familiar streets, markets are now all far away. There is a sense of dislocation too: where does the new you belong- here or the place you left?

All these questions and more we each answer in our own way. But rarely does anyone in academia and science talk about how hard it can be to move from culture to culture, one country to another and what to do to make it easier. Yet so many of us do move,  I think it is worth talking of our experiences.

The one thing I can contribute after making two such moves (from India to the UK in 2005) and now to Sydney, is that what skills you develop in moving go with you to help in your next move. No matter how scary everything is, eventually you will find your feet in the new place and make it your own- just be open to embracing it!



By artiagrawal Posted in General

Graphene for Supercontinuum Generation

In our most recent paper, my student and I looked at exploiting non-linearity of Graphene in a plasmonic structure for Supercontinuum Generation (SCG).

This work has been exciting to us for many reasons:

  • working on 2D materials. Graphene is a quick start and we are exploring other 2D materials and novel materials as well
  • exploiting plasmonic effects to go beyond sensing applications
  • we found Graphene behaving as a metal without negative permittvity and saw formation of Surface Plasmon Polaritons (SPP) at 300 and 371K. To us this is really exciting and could mean some new Physics lies in wait for exploration.

We generated a multi-octave broadband SC spectrum ranging from 1.5–25 micron at a low input peak power of 1 W.

Typically we expect that at a metal-dielectric interface, SPPs are formed when

k2/k1  = − ε2/ε1 ,

where ε2 and ε1 are the
permittivity of the metal and dielectric respectively. In our case, the permittivity of Graphene is not negative,  however we still observe the formation of SPPs. The values we obtained are summarised below:

graphene permittivity

Calculated conductivity and permittivity of single layer Graphene at 1550 nm for 450 meV and  500 meV – 300 K and 371 K

This performance SC spectrum ranging from 1.5–25 micron was possible due to the high Kerr non-linearity of Graphene and also the tailored waveguide dispersion we obtained.


Look out for more on this…



A Retreat in Bavaria!

in the Optical style….

I was intrigued when invited to attend and give a talk at the SPP Retreat on Tailored Disorder in Kostenz, Germany last month organised by Prof. Cordt Zollfrank of TU Munich and collaborators, Prof. Helge Otto Fabritius. I am so glad that I accepted this invitation.

So what was so special about the retreat?

SPP 1839 Retreat held at Kloster Kostenz

SPP 1839 Retreat held at Kloster Costing

For starters it was hosted in the beautiful Bavarian Forest foothills in a monastery. So there was lovely scenery, fantastic beer (and wine!)… The mornings had a programme of excellent talks and the afternoons and evenings had a social programme (we went to a glassblowing workshop), a visit to an interactive Physics museum where adults had as much fun (if not more than( kids. Dinner would be followed by beer and wine in our special  hangout room!

The small numbers in the retreat (about 35) created a lovely intimate atmosphere and in this relaxed setting over beer and gorgeous sit down meals it was possible to get to know everyone, form some links, make friends ….  a perfect networking opportunity.

Weissbeer at the monastery- yum!

Weissbeer at the monastery- yum!

The technical aspect was very well served by the format: single track or focus of the retreat:   Tailored Disorder – A science- and engineering-based approach to materials design for advanced photonic applications. There were a handful of invited talks and the rest by PhD students on their projects on the theme. This led to lively interaction and because of the single focus from various aspects, the discussions were always interesting.

My favourite talk was by Prof. Laura Na Liu of Heidelberg University on dynamic/active 3D plasmonic nanostrucutres. Her presentation style was amazing: she explained in simple language and yet managed to convey the highly complex concepts. Perhaps the most elegant concepts she spoke (that appealed to me) were using DNA origami and complementarity of DNA base pairs to shift orientation of bundles/move a bundle along the origami etc.

apple spp

Laser inscribed SPP 1839 apple

By attaching gold nano rods to these origami and changing the origami the plasmonic response could be changed/monitored dynamically.

For PhD students and young postdocs I think this sort of meeting is invaluable: they can really interact with the invited speakers and hearing focused talks learn a lot, give their talks without feeling too intimidated. I am now a fan of Optics retreats!

Whenever I have the privilege of attending an event such as this which combines thebest science with the best of other things in life: great company, food and drink, nature…I  always feel blessed that being a scientist has given me more than my wildest imagining.


Programming Languages and Art

I was recently translating a very old piece of code written in the ’80s in FORTRAN77 to Matlab. This process has taken me 3 weeks for 20 line code!

Partly because probably I am not a skilled programmer and partly because statements like GOTO do not exist in Matlab.

My aim was to work out exactly the efficiency of a numerical algorithm so I needed to know exactly the value of each variable at every loop counter etc. so the code had to be transcribed exactly. No fancy coding skills to improve the “code” were to be invoked.

In this exercise I realised that programming is more an art form than anything else. There is a beautiful flow of logic (actual mathematical algorithm)  that has to be channeled (dictated by the language constructs, data structures and commands) into a specific form (much like a canal I suppose).

Each time we choose a different language, expressing the same algorithm can take a very different form. Interestingly the language itself can impose either an improvement or a the opposite. In some ways the language can function like the clothes we force our bodies into- giving a specific shape.

In some cases its bit a like struggling to find a word in a language where it doesn’t exist  to express a sentiment that we have a word for in another language.

I wonder if anyone has studied how programming language constraints influence actual logic/algorithms?

Or is this simply my own lack of expertise leading me to fanciful thoughts?

A report from CLEO 2017

Last week I spent some super time at CLEO 2017 in San Jose, California.

The conference as usual was very good and I will write about my favourite talks. There were some new and exciting events that made the conference more special. I gave my own short course on FEM at CLEO now for the 4th time, so that was fun.

So the talks first: I found Dr. Nergis Mavalavala‘s plenary talk on LIGO very cool. It is good to hear about fields where Optics is being used for cutting edge research, while the field is not primarily Optics. Astrophysics has long been an interest for me, so no huge surprises that I liked this talk. I was excited to learn that India is planning a LIGO type detector too!

The session on halide perovskite lasers and particularly the talk by Tze Chien Sum, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore was excellent to understand the current state of the art in these lasers and the challenges facing the field now.

The application and technology review on Supercontinuum Generation (SCG) was another great session: focus on SCG theoretical and experimental development was covered in talks including a historical perspective. It gave a sense of how an entire research field evolved and is still current! My favourites talks in this session were by Alan Willner ( a past president of OSA) on Structured Light using Spatial, OAM and Wavelength Domains for Terabit/sec Communications; and by Adam Devine of  Fianium, who spoke on Supercontinuum  Laser Sources Future Await Wide Applications.

The best technical part however for me was the Bright Idea competition sponsored by Quantel. I was asked to judge the competition with 3 others. We heard 4 talks, and each was amazing. In 15 minutes the competitors took us from the basics in their fields to the research frontier, and what they were going to do, why this was important and the innovation in their approach.
I learned about photo acoustic imaging of the brain, quantum optics (a topic I have always found a bit difficult) and aerodynamics research.  It was an incredibly difficult decision to make amongst the 4 finalists, but eventually the winner was from University of Otago, Harald Schwefel who spoke on Photon Triplets for Quantum Optics and Secure Communication. Next year I think I might submit an entry into the competition as well!

Now to the exciting new events: there was a workshop on unconscious bias, the first I attended. We were shown images and we discussed our reactions to these… this led to realising what are the underlying, unconscious but almost immediate reactions we have, how we categorise or classify.  How we react to people and see someone as warm and relatable or as competent and capable, while someone else as untrustworthy/incompetent. It was a revelation! I would highly recommend trying one of these if you can.

I was stunned to realise how much the colour of a person’s skin meant to me when I judged the person as warm or not. That led me to think if I was then letting this influence my decisions on students, on hiring people, on my volunteer work…

I came away with much to think about from CLEO: both technical and also personal.

St. Petersburg and what I learned there

I last blogged about visiting Leuven for OSA to talk about networking in a workshop on career development for PhD students. I picked up some great career tips there.

The very next day after the Leuven workshop, I flew to St. Petersburg to participate in an Optics Seminar and a Women in Photonics event for IEEE Photonics Society at ITMO University, organised by Anna Voznesenskaya (Dean of Laser and light dept., ITMO University).


IEEE Women in Photonics Session at ITMO University, St. Petersburg

This was my first visit to Russia (a country that I have long been fascinated with) so I was excited beyond belief.

My expectations were exceeded and my thinking challenged!

For a first the number of women in Photonics (and Science, Engineering etc.) at ITMO (and the Russia Federation) seems to be far larger compared to many other countries. I met women who were Heads of Department, Deans, Vice Deans in the technical departments in the university and tech businesses.


Working hard: Presentation skills workshop

The morning half of the programme saw a workshop on presentation skills by the foreign languages department, headed by Yulia Ryabukhina. This was a brilliant interactive and fun workshop and we focussed on communicating science to non-experts. Working in small groups we all had to make presentations on photonics!

The afternoon session focused on career paths of 4 women from STEM. We had Prof. Irina Livshits who is a legend in the field of optical design talking about her work and career. We had a younger professional, Natalya Demkovich (Head of dept., Bee Pitron SP Ltd.) talk about her transition from student to young professional and head of a department and some of the challenges on the way. We had an excellent talk


Conclusion of the workshop

from Natalia Bystriantseva on her experience of working on light design for the built environment and the importance of doing work which agrees with one’s own intellectual philosophy and principles. Her thoughts on how design centred around human beings leads to happier and better used built spaces really resonated with me and it is something I want to learn more about.

Following the talks, we had breakout groups to come up with points on mentoring, networking, volunteering etc. One thing that made sense was that E&D aside, students and young professionals all can benefit from professional development and skills training.

That aside, these ladies rocked!

Honestly, they were the most effortlessly confident, smart and intelligent women I have seen. The idea that they could be discriminated or would be didn’t seem to occur to them and their professional stature seems to reflect that.

So: why is Russia more equitable for women in STEM?

I think that needs more probing and I feel we could definitely learn from our colleagues in Russia. Demographically there are more women than men there- which would help. An outcome of Soviet times as well perhaps? But there has to be more: and I really want to explore it.


Having a blast at the holography museum with Prof. Irina 

Apart from the workshop I was given such fantastic hospitality and warmth by Anna, Irina etc. I had lovely Georgian food, I was show Irina’s labs and the holography museum where we had tremendous fun! I visited the world famous Hermitage museum and the Church on Spilled Blood, the Russian Museum….

I found every aspect of life here fascinating. I ate caviar on my toast!! I had vodka for breakfast!!! I found St. Petersburg to be huge: buildings were sprawling and compared to London it felt like everything was magnified in size at least 10 times. I had the great pleasure of seeing some of the works of the master, Wasilly Kandinsky – what a treat that was.

Language was a barrier and I wish I had brushed up my Greek let


Blinis with salmon and red caviar

ters to read signs better and made more effort to learn Russian phrases to communicate more with people. I found people to be a bit shy, but very warm and helpful when I approached them in spite of the language issue. Though after living in London I realised I had gotten so used to the multicultural nature of the city, seeing almost no people of colour in St. Petersburg was a bit weird for me. Not to say it is not multicultural: there are people and the way of life (food etc) from the various republics that form the Russian Federation.

Above left a picture of the Palace Square with the Hermitage (Winter Palace in the background); right: Inside the Hermitage at the private chapel of the Tsars!

All it amounts to is that I need to go back for some thorough research into:

  • How is there better equality for women in science
  • Learn from Irina about optical design
  • Explore St. Petersburg and other cities
  • Get myself a Faberge egg replica and a Palek box that I missed out on this time





Chocolate milk in Leuven and other things…

I was lucky enough to be invited to a PhD career development day at KU Leuven as an OSA Travelling Lecturer this last month.

I had a wonderful experience (you may roll your eyes and say: “she says that for all the places she visits!” True but I can’t help it if I have such great hosts in such lovely locations).

First work and then I’ll talk about the chocolate milk…

The OSA student chapter at Leuven, recognising that most PhD students worry about their future prospects put together a really smart programme: 1 hour session by Cathy from Cheeky Scientist on transitionising from academia to industry, I had an hour on networking skills and then a final hour with Wim Van Kerchove


Lunch with the chapter officers and speakers

( on applying for industry jobs.


About 180 students attended the workshop and there were questions for all the speakers. Plenty of students came up to talk to us in the reception that followed as well so there was a chance to get to know some people on a more individual level apart from getting a sense of the concerns of the larger group.

Looking for a job is a serious matter and requires effort and time. Cathy and Wim’s talks were very helpful in explaining how building a profile and network are needed not on the day one starts the great job quest, but well in advance. Cathy’s tips on how to create a good job search strategy, a good linkedin profile were very illuminating.

While Wim gave some really crucial insights into how recruitment folks and headhunters look at job applicants: a view from the other side. He stressed that most jobs are not advertised and therefore networking, apprenticeships etc. are very important in finding a job.

To me a really important thing that both Cathy and Wim stressed on was that it should be about finding a job that suits you, not just any job. Happiness and satisfaction should be present in your job and ensure a good work life balance. Remember that when you are looking and feel desperate!


Legendary chocolate milk!

My hour on networking skills was spent exploring what networks are, how they are useful, how each person’s networking style should be suited to their personality, and finally how networks can be built, grown and tapped. I emphasise here as I did in Leuven, to have a thriving network, one must give back to it not just take from it, else the network will wither.


If you want to know more you will have to invite me to your chapter!

Now to the chocolate milk and chocolates.

On the evening before the workshop I saw a young man drinking chocolate milk at a bar. I was intrigued and at lunch with Valerie and the others, I had some too. I got a glass of milk accompanied by a bowl of chocolate pellets. These melted into the hot milk and gave me the most delicious chocolatey chocolate milk I ever had. Not only that, Valerie Yousef and the others got us lovely Belgian chocolates.

A quick word on Leuven itself: beautiful medieval town with very friendly and


Incredible architecture at Leuven

helpful locals. I had so much help finding my hotel in spite of the language barrier. I feel so much more welcome in a place when the local populace is welcoming- makes the experience richer. Leuven has a lot of Dutch influence so canals, language, shops… I was reminded strongly of Amsterdam.


And so I departed for London feeling rather satiated, ready for my next adventure to St. Petersburg!

A special Easter present

I woke up today feeling excited with a  tremendous sense of anticipation.

Easter means chocolate so you might think that was what it was- but it was a whole lot more!

My very first PhD student thesis submission as a supervisor!

It almost felt like I was submitting- that is how great the feeling is. After 4 years to see a student reach the finish line (well almost, pending the viva) and be there with them on the journey is incredible.

There are highs and lows, calculations gone wrong, errors discovered, papers rejected (and the heartache that engenders) and the sense of accomplishment when the results show something new, papers are accepted…

As a supervisor facilitating the learning process for a student, and guiding them on the journey (which admittedly can be rocky at times) where they can feel they are a scientist is huge privilege. I think the learning goes both ways, and at times it is not clear who the student is.

This feeling today is liking climbing a mountain and seeing a beautiful view. I hope there will be more such in the future!