Fanchini, Giovanni - University of Western Ontario


Bandits in scientific territory: on the history of near-field optical microscopy, and how it affects the way we design light-harvesting devices and solar cells


“I only claim to be a bandit in scientific territory". With these words, Edward Hutchinson Synge introduced himself in one of his 1928 letters to Albert Einstein. Synge had dropped from Trinity College Dublin some 15 years before and was living in the shadow of a younger sibling –a respected scholar who had already been making seminal contributions to Riemann manifolds. What Synge described in his letter is now universally accepted to be the beginning of a fertile area for optical sciences: "near-field" optics. Before succumbing to his Asperger's syndrome, Synge went on to publish what are the working principles of scanning near-field optical microscopes (SNOMs). Something Synge did not miss was that near-field optical images are intrinsically three-dimensional. In our talk, we will review what our and other groups have done towards the development of 3D SNOM as a technique capable of exploring the suitability of metal nanostructures to harvest light at specific points in space, with a focus on applications in plasmonic solar cells, evanescent waveguiding, and other devices acting as near-field antennas. Our lecture is an opportunity to introduce the burgeoning field of nano-optics and review the success story of a disabled physicist who left long-lasting contributions from an era in which disabilities were a stigma.

Short bio

Dr. Giovanni Fanchini is Associate Professor at Western University, where he has held the Canada Research Chair in Carbon-based nanomaterials and nano-optoelectronics. An experimental condensed matter physicist, he has been working for more than a decade on light-matter interaction and nanoscale light management in different types of materials and devices, in particular inorganic and carbon-based. His more recent research interests in this area included the development and use of innovative imaging and spectroscopic techniques based on scanning near-field optical microscopy for optoelectronic device characterization under operando conditions, and their optimization. Examples of this research included the development of SNOM based contactless techniques for nanoscale thermal conductivity imaging and the development of three-dimensional SNOM for light-harvesting design in plasmonic solar cells. Before joining Western, he has worked as a solar cell scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia, towards the development of flexible and printable solar cells from small polyaromatic molecules, with a focus on deeper understanding on their photophysics. His work on Raman spectroscopy in optoelectronic-grade graphene oxide has resulted in a paper (Nature Nano, 2008) with now over 4,000 citations (Google Scholar). In Canada, he has received several awards, including an Ontario Early Researcher

Return to previous page