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“Catching Rainbows”: Lehigh alum advances work on photonics with potential breakthroughs

Qiaoqiang Gan '10 Ph.D, assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Buffalo, and a team of graduate students created a more efficient way to catch rainbows, an advancement in photonics that could lead to technological breakthroughs in solar energy, stealth technology and other areas of research.  Gan described their work in a paper called “Rainbow Trapping in Hyperbolic Metamaterial Waveguide,” published in the online journal Scientific Reports.

The team developed a “hyperbolic metamaterial waveguide,” which is essentially an advanced microchip made of alternate ultra-thin films of metal and semiconductors and/or insulators. The waveguide halts and ultimately absorbs each frequency of light, at slightly different places in a vertical direction to catch a “rainbow” of wavelengths.

Gan earned a B.S. in materials science and engineering in 2003 from Fudan University in Shanghai, one of the top science and engineering schools in China, where he was awarded the Preeminent Individual Prize for innovation in science and technology.

From Fudan, he went to Beijing, where he earned his master's of engineering degree in 2006 from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Semiconductors.

Gan graduated from Lehigh in 2010 with a Ph.D and is currently assistant professor at the University of Buffalo and a researcher within the school’s new Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics.

While at Lehigh, Gan helped pioneer a way to slow light without cryogenic gases. Gan, along with professors Fil Bartoli and Yujie Ding, made nano-scale-sized grooves in metallic surfaces at different depths, a process that altered the optical properties of the metal. While the grooves worked, they had limitations. For example, the energy of the incident light cannot be transferred onto the metal surface efficiently, which hampered its use for practical applications.

However, since joining the University at Buffalo, Gan and his team have discovered that hyperbolic metamaterial waveguide solves that problem because it is a large area of patterned film that can collect the incident light efficiently. This discovery could lead to advancements in an array of fields, such as solar panels and other energy-harvesting devices.

In 2009, the Chinese government recognized Gan's research achievements at Lehigh University when China's Ministry of Education presented him with the 2008 Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-Financed Students Abroad. Gan was also selected as one of the 12 winners of the IEEE Photonic Society Student Fellowship in 2009. He holds several patents and has written and published several papers.

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