ABC Elevator Pitch: what is light?

Fun video for the ABC, doing my best to explain what light is – but in a single elevator ride.

As a side note, this is a textbook example of an insufficient explanation for the particle nature of light! (But how to do it in just a fraction of an elevator ride!!!???) As my quantum photonics friends keep telling me, I am cheating by assuming I know the answer. For anyone interested in this fascinating topic, I recommend getting your hands on first few chapters of this wonderful book:

The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, by George Greenstein and Arthur G. Zajonc (Jones and Bartlett, 2006)

Plasmonic sensing in waveguides: a non-Hermitian perspective

New paper just published in Photonics Research! Should be useful for anyone working on sensing with plasmonic waveguides and fibers. We discuss in detail what to expect from the experimental spectra of plasmonic waveguide sensors in various regimes.

Because this is a non-Hermitian system, things can be a bit confusing. It’s quite tempting to infer everything from just mode dispersions, but sometimes the propagation constants cross, sometimes they anti-cross. So what to make of it, and how does it all affect an actual sensor? That’s what we discuss here. And the exceptional point.

I put up my “rawest” Python Notebook on github, that reproduces a few key plots, in case anyone wants to adapt it to their own sensor design.

I like to call this my “Sydney lockdown” paper – thanks to Boris Kuhlmey and Markus Schmidt for the collaboration.

Bend losses in polyurethane fibers

Happy to announce that the first experimental paper from our revamped Sydney Terahertz Lab has been published in Optics Express.

Our talented Denison Student Jonathan Skelton had the opportunity to study the world-famous polyurethane fibers of our friend and colleague Alessio Stefani during the summer earlier this year, way back when Sydney was not in lockdown mode. To enable this, we built a fast terahertz 2D imaging setup based on our fiber-coupled Menlo Systems TERAK15. This system makes it very easy to study bend losses in waveguides.

We took a close look at bend losses in two hollow core THz fibers, which are really flexible despite being quite thick. It’s not common to be able to bend terahertz waveguides of this size by this much, and it was interesting to weigh the pros and cons of these kinds of structures. What we learned: in terms of bend losses, these simple tubes are not so bad, unless you bend them a lot. Vice versa: structured tubes are better if you the fibers a lot! Otherwise, you couple to tube cladding modes…

Download the paper for more information:

A. Stefani, J. Skelton, A. Tuniz, “Bend losses in flexible polyurethane antiresonant terahertz waveguides”, Optics Express 29 28692-28703 (2021)

Imaging in Hyperbolic Media: Python Code

In response to an out-of-the-blue email asking for help, I recently dug up my Jupyter Notebook code for reproducing the results of a paper written with Boris Kuhlmey in 2015, “Two-dimensional imaging in hyperbolic media–the role of field components and ordinary waves“.

With a bit of extra love, this can be adapted to reproduce every figure! The beauty of this approach compared to brute-force methods such as FEM and FDTD is that it allows quite rapid calculations via analytical formulae. I seem to remember that, for comparison, COMSOL sometimes struggled to converge, and that the huge slabs considered towards the end of the paper would have impossibly large meshes. However, this code is slowed down by the need for arbitrary-precision computations, which stems from large exponentials that appear when considering fine spatial features… Please cite the paper if you use this code for your research!

Code is here:

Recent Review Papers

Just a quick update to highlight a couple of review papers that have come out in the past two months. both Open Access, so take a look!

“Shortcuts to adiabaticity (STA) in waveguide couplers – theory and implementation”, published last month in Advances in Physics: X, is a review and comparison of various STA techniques. We compared various theoretical STA treatments with full numerical simulations, concentrating on realistic two-waveguide systems which are key building blocks for photonic circuits. Adam Taras and Musawer Bajwa worked on this as part of a third year Interdisciplinary Special Project, co-supervised with Martijn de Sterke and Chris Poulton, in collaboration with Judith Dawes and Vincent Ng.

My first single-author paper, a Review article on “Nanoscale nonlinear plasmonics in photonic waveguides and circuits”, was published just yesterday in the historic journal La Rivista del Nuovo Cimento. I wrote this tutorial-style review to introduce readers to theoretical and experimental aspects of nonlinear plasmonics in the context of optical waveguides with an eye on photonic circuits. I hope it will be a useful entry point for anyone interested in a conceptual toolkit to enter this field.


As the year draws to a close, thought I’d provide a small update with some (non-exhaustive) 2020 highlights: a representative selection of events that played a part in this unusual year.

January/February: Work proceeds as normal. Quite the highlight, given what follows.

March: The course I am co-coordinating, Phys3888 (and its Data3888 partner) moves online with the rest of the world – particularly challenging for an experimental multidisciplinary course such as this. Thanks to the amazing work of colleagues Ben Fulcher and Jean Yang, and our life-saving tutors Alison Wong and Zoe Stawyskyj, I think this transition worked out incredibly well.

May: “Modular nonlinear hybrid plasmonic circuit” is published in Nature Communications – I proposed this work as Oliver Bickerton’s Honours Project all the way back in 2018, great to see it picked up by a few news sites.

June: My DECRA begins, and I become director of the Sydney Terahertz Laboratory – currently installing a few upgrades! For a quick virtual lab tour, I made a silly video.

July: I have the pleasure of giving an MQ Photonics seminar on my recent research – thanks Mikolaj and Judith for the invitation!

August: I give two virtual contributed talks and one poster at CLEO Pac Rim 2020 in its online-only format, on the topics of effective PT-symmetries and fiber plasmonics, the nonlinear coefficient of lossy waveguides, and measurements of the nonlinear response of gold. On a related note, “Pulse length dependent near-infrared ultrafast nonlinearity of gold by self-phase modulation” is published in APL – this work used background-free self-phase modulation to measure the nonlinear susceptibility as a function of pulse duration in the sub-picosecond range.

September: “Establishing the nonlinear coefficient for extremely lossy waveguides” is published in Optics Letters. There are a few analytical expressions for the nonlinear coefficient in lossy plasmonic waveguides, and as part of Gordon Li’s honours project (he’s now PhD student at Caltech), we compared them with full simulations and established which one works best.

I also give a (virtual) invited talk at EOSAM 2020, “Crossing the exceptional point in a fiber-plasmonic waveguide.”

October: “Scalable Functionalization of Optical Fibers Using Atomically Thin Semiconductors” is published in Advanced Materials. The product of a German-Australian collaboration led by Falk Eilenberger from the IAP (Jena), this work shows that semiconducting 2D-Materials can be integrated into microstructured optical fibers in a scalable process. This opens the path towards new applications in quantum enhanced sensing and nonlinear optics. They even made a sexy image that was selected for the inside back cover…

I co-organize and host the 2nd SEMCAN Viral Bytes competition (see the many entries on our Twitter page), and take the opportunity to start a YouTube Channel and upload a few example viral videos with the complicity friend and colleague Andrew Grant.

November: “Omnidirectional field enhancements drive giant nonlinearities in epsilon-near-zero waveguides” is published in Optics Letters. This work followed from the second part of Gordon’s honours project. We took a close look at where the largest nonlinearities are expected for epsilon-near-zero waveguides, to guide future experiments. Some more pleasant news followed – Ben Fulcher and I where honoured with the Faculty of Science Award for Outstanding Early Career Teaching! Sincere thank yous to everyone who played a part.

December: “On-chip Hybrid plasmonics goes modular” was published in OPN’s Optics in 2020 highlights. I also hosted a Sydney Nano Meet the Author online seminar with friends and collaborators Mohammad Valashani and Amandeep Kaur before wrapping up for the year.

And as a final bit of good news for this year, I am happy to have been promoted to Senior Lecturer (Level C).

Ready for 2021.

A Quick Viral Byte

I am co-organizing the SEMCAN Viral Bytes Video Competition (open to Usyd EMCRs only I’m afraid). I’m often told this kind of thing is time consuming, so I made a quick example to encourage submission.. In this video I’m “explaining” the principles behind the modular hybrid plasmonic circuit published in a recent paper.  I also took the opportunity to create a YouTube channel for the occasion: Photuniz! This was a lot of fun, so maybe I’ll do more of these.

If you’re a USYD Researcher (at any level!), you should consider submitting a quick viral-like video.

Logo by Dr. Anastasia Globa




The end the year approaches – I can finally take a moment to share a few things I’ve been up to since the last post! It’s hard to condense 9 months in a few photos, and I won’t succeed – but hopefully the snapshots below give a good overview…


The first Sydney Early and Mid-Career Academics Network event for 2019 was held in March. We invited Prof. Celine Boehm and Prof. Renae Ryan to talk about diversity in academia, which was followed by a robust discussion.



Later in the year, I co-chaired the SEMCAN Viral Bytes event with Dr. Kristina Cook and Dr. Christopher Coady –  we invited early- and mid- career researchers to submit viral content that creatively explains what they did as researchers at the University of Sydney.  You can find some of the entries on the SEMCAN twitter page. Here I am presenting the award! I also had a bit of fun making the event logo…

Dalyell Student Showcase


My colleague Ben Fulcher and I supervised some very talented 1st year students on a Dalyell Showcase project, piloting our 3rd year course on the brain-machine interface. The Dalyell programme is for high-achieving students, who get to work on an open-ended research project. They managed to use their alpha waves to play brain tug-of-war, and also put together a car racing game prototype, all within one semester and no prior coding experience.


PRL_OpexA few firsts: my first last-author paper, presenting extensive theoretical and numerical work co-authored with Prof. Martijn de Sterke and Mr. Colin Huang, which resolved some outstanding issues on orthogonal plasmonic couplers; my first PRL, in collaboration with IPHT Jena; and my first Arxiv paper (yes, a bit late to the party). That work is still under review, but I was happy to share my results while I presented them at various conferences. Speaking of which…

Conferences and Talks

Conference season was in (Northern Hemisphere) spring for me this season – it kicked off at the Conference in Nanophotonics in Monte Verita’ –  a small but prestigious gathering where where I was fortunate enough to be selected for an oral presentation. I’m  including the program here just to give an idea if the lineup – Bluesfest pales in comparison!


The following week I visited my colleague Birgit Stiller at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Erlangen, where I was invited to present. I took the opportunity to catch up with my collaborators in Jena before heading to FIO for the final leg of my round-the-world trip. This trip was kindly funded by the a travel grant from Sydney Nano…


Sydney Nano EMCR Ambassador

Sydney Nano is rapidly growing, and I was privileged to become the first Sydney Nano EMCR Ambassador for the Faculty of Science in the middle of this year.  We have since developed several initiatives (ECR workshop on research catalysts) and awards (travel award, best paper award) to support our early-career members. More to come in 2020!



The first-of-its-kind 3rd year interdisciplinary physics course (or PHYS3888, for those in the know) was launched in Semester 2 this year. For the first time ever, physics students were involved in an open-ended collaborative project with data science students (who were coordinated by Prof. Jean Yang).  Each group contained students from both disciplines, who collected and analysed their own data, generated by an EEG, using complementary skills from both disciplines. This is unprecedented for a large course (typically, students either work with existing data, or are individually supervised within a research group). Below is a video of some students using their mind (well, their eyeball) to play a jumping game – quite impressive. I will be co-coordinating it in the first semester in 2020, and I look forward to making this course better each year.

DECRA success

Last but not least – in November it was announced that my DECRA fellowship had been funded! This is very exciting news, and will provide me with the opportunity to run my own lab – watch this space in 2020..


OUR UNI-DIVERSITY: Merits and Challenges of Diversity in Academia


I am organizing this event, together with A/Prof. Ollie Jay, via the The University of Sydney Early-Mid Career Academic Network (SEMCAN). We hope to have an open and honest event to discuss several important issues regarding diversity in academia, led by Prof. Celine Boehm and Prof. Renae Ryan – so please leave some questions and comments if you have any, by clicking above.

Register here!

When: Thursday, March 14, 2019: 4-5pm (followed by drinks on a rooftop patio)

Where: Lecture Theatre 2, School of Physics, University of Sydney

Diversity stimulates inventiveness, inspires innovation, boosts productivity, and increases the overall odds of academic success.

However, some people believe policies that actively ensure diversity do not necessarily reward objective academic excellence, and in some cases even favour a less-qualified minority.

In late 2018, a notorious Italian scientist publicly proclaimed that he was the latest victim of a global anti-male agenda – and had the data to prove it.

Prof. Celine Boehm and Prof. Renae Ryan have some data of their own…

2018 – a recap

Six months since my last update! Thought I’d do a quick stream-of-consciousness start-of-the-year recap of what happened for the rest of 2018.


Fast-tracked my Silicon Photonics skills by signing up to Lukas’s fabulous edX course, with a final grade of 98%:


I missed out on the top mark by dropping the ball on some of those early homework questions. How embarrassing.



Dusted off the ol’ pulse-picker (PSIMO Pulse Picker OG8-25-1, which hadn’t been used since about 2008..) and eventually got it to work (a hidden fuse had blown.) This quick video shows me rotating the half waveplate – you can see the pulses being “picked” from 80MHz to ~100Hz. Goodbye thermal effects! Our visiting student Hugo Boiron got some nice preliminary z-scan measurements on gold nanofilms (thanks Hugo!), and more is on the way.

I also drew the official logo for the University of Sydney Early- and Mid- Career Researcher Network (PhysCREAM):


Notice the cream on the shirt and head.


Started developing the new Physics Interdisciplinary Course (Phys3888) with friend and superstar Dr. Ben Fulcher. I’m curating the interdisciplinary laboratory portion of the course, which will include elements of neurophysics and data science. Really looking forward to getting this up and running later this year, I’ll make sure to include more info here as we progress.

I was also invited to the 14th Australia-China Symposium in Changchun – that’s me on the right there.


A delightful trip with many great Australian and Chinese physicists! The facilities there are outstanding.

I gave a few of the third year optics lectures/tutorials with Prof. Martijn de Sterke, and learnt a few things in the process. I look forward to doing more this year. On a related note, I also accepted the offer to teach the Advanced Optics and Photonics honours course with Prof. Ben Eggleton and A/Prof. Stefano Palomba in 2019. So that’s three courses I’ll be heavily involved in this year…

I was the successful recipient of the Research Facilities Access Grant ($3500), to help cover the cost of clean room usage. Thanks also to this contribution, I completed all my clean-room training at the Sydney Nano Research and Prototype Foundry, and started collaborating with Dr. Alvaro Casas Bedoya and Dr. Mortiz Merklein (aka. “Team silicon photonics”) towards developing low-loss silicon waveguides. We’re making good progress, but still some room for improvement – 2019 here we come!


Late last year we finally made our first on-chip plasmonic nano-structures. A lot of design and fabrication effort went into this, but we got there eventually – all as part of Mr. Oliver Bickerton’s honours project. Now that we have this in place, there’s so much that can be done…! Watch this space. And speaking of which, our Oliver Bickerton successfully finished honours year! Congratulations Oliver, thanks for all your hard work.

While this was happening I was working on a couple of papers which…


…both got accepted in the same month.

1) A. Tuniz, H. Schneidewind, J. Dellith, S. Weidlich, and M. A. Schmidtet al., “Nanoapertures without Nanolithography”, ACS Photonics (2018).



Some of the data in this paper was taken just before I left Jena. It took a lot of work to do the modelling and some follow-up experimental characterization, it was worth it – we show a simple way of making metal nanoapertures on a fiber without any kind of lithographic step, and also provide some important guidelines. This work was also presented here at the University of Sydney as part of the Institute of Photonics and Optical Science “Impact Fest”.

2) V. Ng, A. Tuniz, J. Dawes, and C. Martijn de Sterke, “Insights from a systematic study of crosstalk in adiabatic couplers”, OSA Continuum (in production).

This one was just accepted (no hyperlink yet), and comes from a collaboration with our good friends at Macquarie University. This theoretical/numerical work is particularly enjoyable, and we’re learning a lot about adiabatic mode conversion. Even though one of the first papers to look at this topic thoroughly (at least for optical waveguides) was published in 1955, this systematic study shows that there’s still quite a lot to be understood.

It’s the first time I publish in either of these journals (unsurprisingly, also because 2018 was the inaugural year of OSA continuum.)


December also featured Oliver presented his honours work at the AIP congress. Michelle Wang, co-supervised last summer with international media sensation Dr. Birgit Stiller, also presented a poster on Brillouin Plasmonics. Looking forward to working more on this.

Finally I should also mention that, thanks to the successful grant applications of several distinguished colleagues, we have had two amazing pieces of equipment come in this year: the first is the super-fast-and-very-impressive TeraK15 terahertz time-domain-spectroscopy system (its speed and compactness puts our old system to shame), and the other is the neaSNOM microscope, which will finally let us do our own complete near-field characterization of nanophotonic devices. Side by side, these two behemoths give us insane experimental characterization capabilities.

This is by no means an exhaustive summary – other things are happening, with much of it getting lost in the excitement. I’m really looking forward to 2019!