Optics Senior Researcher Highly Commended for Student Supervision

29 April 2010

University of Sydney senior researcher Dr Maryanne Large has been highly commended by the Vice-Chancellor's Committee for Excellence for her outstanding contribution to supervision and ability to engage and motivate her students.

Draw tower and Dr Large.
Draw tower and Dr Large.

As part of the commendation it was stated that Dr Large's approach to supervision is based around two overarching themes: that a supervisor should be a mentor to their students and that students should feel they are part of a rich and diverse research environment.

With this highly student-centric approach, Dr Large challenges her students to take ownership of their project by defining its direction and exploring their own ideas. Dr Large, a senior researcher with the Institute of Photonics and Optic Sciences (IPOS), says, "It's important that students develop into independent researchers during their projects. They aren't just high-level technical assistants. No one knows all the answers, but students have to learn to how to tackle open ended problems, how to think and be creative. I am always there to help, but it's important they have to have the freedom and confidence to explore. That's the joy of doing research in the first place."

Part of the research that fascinates her students is Microstructured Polymer Optical Fibre (MPOF), a new type of fibre developed at IPOS, which is based in The School of Physics. Working with polymers Dr Large has made in-roads into fabrication techniques that allow MPOF student researchers to make and study structures that can also incorporate material additives such as dyes, quantum dots and metal inclusions and that would be difficult to make in silica.

"Polymer-based microstructured optical fibres offer key advantages over both conventional polymer optical fibres and glass microstructured fibres," explains Dr Large who says the last frontier of fibre optics needs to be flexible, short distance and high-speed fibre connections.

As secure, ultra-fast communications are increasingly important in data-hungry and mobile environments such as robotics, cars and aerospace and the next generation of home and office the low-cost manufacturability and the chemical flexibility of the polymers provide great potential for applications in data communication networks and for the development of a range of new polymer-based fibre-optic components.

"For these applications, large core polymer fibres that can withstand tight bends such as we are currently researching, are a better solution. We can produce ultra-high bandwidth fibres that work in the visible, are robust to use and with almost no increase in loss of intensity.

"Currently we're working to develop ultra-high bandwidth polymer fibre and fibre laser operating in the visible region that are both physically robust and compatible with consumer electronics."

Dr Large says her students are looking forward to developing this research area even further.