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Renaud Bachelot

Interested in a degree program to jumpstart a career in nano-optics or nanophotonics? There’s a new graduate school in France that could be right for you. OPN spoke with one of the school’s lead organizers, Renaud Bachelot of the University of Technology Troyes (UTT), France, about the project.

How did UTT come to the idea of the Nano-Optics and Nanophotonics (Nano-Phot) Graduate School?

Nano-optics and nanophotonics are rapidly growing and, given the connections to the fields of energy, telecommunications, security, health and environment, nanophotonics is at the crossroads of at least three of the six Key Enabling Technologies defined by the European Commission as a priority of its industrial policy.

UTT has been developing a nanophotonics program for graduate students for 25 years, and, through its Light, nanomaterials and nanotechnologies (L2n) research laboratory, UTT’s work in the field has become known worldwide. In UTT’s current graduate degree programs, however, the nanophotonics and nano-optics foci are diluted within the general frame of the program, are not very visible from the outside, and concern only a portion of one of the three specialties of the programs.

And so you were looking for a more integrated approach?

Yes. In collaboration with the CNRS (the French National Center for Scientific Research) and the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne (URCA), the new graduate school will bring together and reinforce all the different nanophotonics components of UTT and its partners, resulting in a strong, visible and coherent five-year graduate program dedicated to nano-optics and nanophotonics. In general, Nano-Phot aims to further internationalize our research and training, cultivate cross-fertilization between academics, industry and society, use innovative teaching methods, techniques and tools, and promote an interdisciplinary approach to nano-optics.

Creating a nanophotonics graduate school that is taught by research scientists is an ambitious undertaking to train the next generations of researchers and professionals.

But there are other optics graduate schools that also offer such training.

True—graduate schools in optics do exist, such as Institut d’Optique Graduate School, France, Light S&T, University of Bordeaux, France, The Institute of Optics at University of Rochester, USA, and Karlsruhe School of Optics and Photonics, Germany. And nano-optics courses are offered in the more general context of one-year programs, like those of the graduate schools of Princeton University, USA, Imperial College London, U.K., or University of Bourgogne, France.

Even in this context, though, these graduate schools offer nanoscience courses only as specialization courses. There are no graduate schools exclusively dedicated to nano-optics and nanophotonics. Our project aims to create such a school.

And we definitely see a need. Nano-optics is building success, and correspondingly strong networks and communities, because of its multidisciplinary nature, the versatility and number of applications, and the expectation of extensive new markets developing in the near future. Expanding markets are creating a growing international demand for nano-optics experts and technologists.

So it is important to have a compact, coherent program to train people in the general skills of nano-optics and on the importance of innovation and research in the industry, in many topical fields including quantum technologies based on nanophotonics.

Both fundamental and industry skills? How will you bring the two together?

The number and type of possible jobs related to nano-optics are expected to increase, in both high-tech companies and academic institutions, as the associated markets are expected to grow quickly. Our goal is not only to provide scientific knowledge and technological skills, but also to make students aware of the needs and challenges in terms of markets, sustainability and technological breakthroughs, and to prepare them to face these challenges.

To help with professional integration, each student will have access to tutoring from senior researchers and Ph.D. students as well as a mentorship with an UTT alumni. The school will also arrange private and public business visits. Organizations partnering with Nano-Phot will provide professional experience through internships, cofund theses and hire students after their graduation.

Additionally, industrial partners will be integrated into all dimensions of Nano-Phot, from contributing to courses and serving as members of degree defense juries to providing thesis co-supervision under France’s Conventions Industrielles de Formation par la Recherche (CIFRE) program and participating in the governance of Nano-Phot.

I understand that, at Nano-Phot, students are able to customize their education. How does that work?

Over the five years of the program, students can transition between the areas of nano-optics emerging materials, nano-spectroscopy and nanosensors, nano-optics fundamental phenomena, and nanofabrication for nano-optics. These four themes actually represent the scientific framework for the research activities that will be proposed to the students. All students will have access to the same courses, including courses in foreign language, science communication, intellectual property and management.

Students are able to personalize their program, with the support of an advisor, through new learning paths and training programs that will be structured by the scientific themes, international mobility and multilingual training environments and activities. Students will also be involved in scientific dissemination activities, such as science fairs or demonstrations in high schools, and will be required to regularly attend seminars and at least one international conference.

How does Nano-Phot’s model of “project-mode” classes work?

In the Nano-Phot program, the course framework will consist of lectures, experimental demonstration, tutorials and personal projects that illustrate the content of the lectures. Students will be introduced to the learning material before each class session, allowing classroom time to be used for related peer discussions and problem-solving activities.

Students will also conduct semester-long research projects in partnership with the six laboratories participating in the Nano-Phot program. After the first semester, students will select one of these labs to join and will begin to take on bigger research projects. In the fourth semester, students will choose to do an internship with an academic laboratory or a company. This gradual involvement in research will allow students to develop their technical skills, actively participate in their training and prepare their master’s theses throughout the entire program.

What are some of the qualities Nano-Phot is looking for in potential students?

We are looking for individuals with very good track records of academic excellence. For the interview, applicants should show motivation, curiosity, reliability, and open-mindedness. Applicants must also be aware of the importance of a global approach in terms of sciences, technologies, societal applications, including human sciences issues involving economic realities, ethics and sustainability.

The school is just now getting started. Where do you hope to take Nano-Phot in the next 10 or 15 years?

In the long term, we envision a school of 150 students that provides over 30 master’s degree graduates and 20 Ph.D. graduates per year. The school will be connected with more than 30 universities and company partners from all over the world. The industry partners will stimulate the students’ application of nano-optics, professional skills and experience, while the academic partners will carry out nano-optics research projects with UTT.

Renaud Bachelot is a professor of physics at the University of Technology of Troyes (UTT), France, and a joint professor at Shanghai University (Sino-European School of Technology and Key Lab on Advanced Display and system application), China. Until August 2019, Renaud served as the head of UTT’s L2n Laboratory. Renaud is currently a board member of the Faculty of Physics of the Pierre and Marie Curie University, Sorbonne University, Paris, France, President of the scientific board of the EPF-École d’Ingénieur(e)s graduate school, France, and a member of the executive committee of the Center for Nanoscale Materials, Argonne National Laboratory, USA. His work focuses on nano-optics, near-field optics, local light/polymer interaction, scanning probe microscopy, nano-optoelectronics and nanoplasmonics.