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Bessel prize-winner at the TU Ilmenau

One of this year's winners of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation's prestigious Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award, Professor Lan Yang from Washington University in St. Louis, USA, will spend her associated stay abroad at the Technical University of Ilmenau starting in 2020.

Since 2001, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has awarded the Bessel Prize annually to about 20 internationally renowned scientists from abroad with an excellent reputation. The nomination is administered by German colleagues, the prize itself is endowed with € 45.000. The prize money is used to finance research stays in Germany of a total duration of up to 12 months for a self-chosen project. It is regarded as one of the most renowned German research awards for foreign scientists.

Professor Lan Yang is an outstanding scientist in the field of photonic micro- and nanotechnologies. Her research areas include nanophotonics, ultra-sensitive optical sensors and optical microcavities. Her work has been widely published in such renowned journals as Nature and Science and has received widespread recognition, which is also reflected in numerous awards, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, which she received from Barack Obama in 2010. The laureate, born in 1975, is an alumna of UST China and CalTech, where she received her doctorate in 2005. She has been a professor at the McKelvey School of Engineering since 2007 and has held the Edwin H. & Florence G. Skinner Chair for Electrical Systems Engineering at Washington University, St. Louis, MO since 2015.

Her work in nanoparticle detection, which is essential for identifying environmental and health risks, is particularly ground-breaking. Based on on-chip microresonators, for example, she has developed new particle sensors that not only perform the detection itself but can also determine the size of individual nanoparticles - a decisive performance feature for the rapid determination of precise environmental hazards. This is achieved by the targeted combination of two optical modes and the observation of their scattering behaviour influenced by nanoparticles. This enables particles as small as 10 nm to be reliably detected. The prize-winner is an expert in the field of so-called non-Hermitian physics, an extension of quantum mechanics of known concepts opening completely new possibilities in optical systems to manipulate the modes in the system in a targeted manner and thus realize completely new applications. One example is the development of particularly sensitive sensors operating at a so-called exceptional point, which can be adjusted in such a non-Hermitic system by fine adjustment of gain (keyword laser) and loss (keyword absorption) in the optical system.

Prof. Lan Yang has been working with Prof. Martina Hentschel (FG Theoretical Physics II) at the Technische Universität Ilmenau for many years. The working groups of both professors already worked together on numerous research projects in the past. In addition to the very similar interests, it is above all the fruitful mutual complementarity of the theoretical and practical approaches of both scientists. Both scientists are particularly interested in application aspects. Therefore, the cooperation at the TU Ilmenau will also include groups from the engineering sciences, especially Prof. Stefan Sinzinger's Optical Engineering Group.

Of particular advantage - and probably also decisive for Prof. Yang's decision to come to Ilmenau - are the unique conditions she finds here at the Institute for Micro- and Nanotechnologies IMN-MacroNano®. In addition to the opportunity to exchange ideas with many colleagues, it is above all the immense technical possibilities offered by the DFG core facility "Micro-Nano-Integration" for the planned research work and experiments. Especially for the latter, Prof. Yang finds technical possibilities here at the ZMN which - according to her own statements - are not available to her in this form at Washington University.

The participation in the IMN graduate college with Prof. Lan Yang as international supervisor has been planned during the research stay. In addition, there will be an exchange of doctoral students and a joint research program in the field of mesoscopic optics and mesoscopic system technology. The participants hope that this will result in a long-term cooperation between TU Ilmenau and Washington State University.