Ultrafast & Twisted Photonics – Francesco Tani new research group leader

Francesco Tani is the head of a new independent research group at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPL) in Erlangen. He uses photonic crystal fibres to develop the next generation of ultrafast light sources and to measure the chirality – the lack of symmetry upon reflection – of substances, which is fundamentally important in pharmacology.

“What I find fascinating about our research is that it deals with investigating fundamental phenomena in optics and physics and at the same time has many possible direct applications”, explains Francesco Tani. With his new research group Ultrafast & Twisted Photonics he focuses on the two research fields of ultrafast phenomena and chiroptical spectroscopy. They use photonic crystal fibres to enhance and finely control the interaction of light with matter in the gaseous and liquid phases. The sources Tani and his team develop can far exceed the brightness of synchrotron facilities – which use a particle accelerator – while being much more compact and providing light with a comparable spectral coverage and significantly finer temporal resolution.

Using these light sources and photonic crystal fibres, they work on the development of new photonic platforms for measuring chirality – the lack of symmetry upon reflection – of different compounds with a much higher sensitivity than what current state-of-the-art technology allows for. Chirality plays a pivotal role in many chemical reactions, therefore being able to determine it accurately is fundamental for pharmaceuticals and for ascertaining the impact of many pollutants and pesticides. The groups new systems will make it possible to quickly and efficiently characterize drugs using a minimal sample volume, which is crucial for determining their safety and efficacy.

Francesco Tani has worked in many laboratories within and outside Europe, however he has not found a place comparable to MPL: “The many different areas of photonics covered at the institute and the collaborative environment make it possible to widen our horizons and give us many opportunities to acquire new expertise from our colleagues.” Tani, who received his Master’s degree in theoretical physics from the University of Rome La Sapienza with a thesis on laser-plasma acceleration, joined MPL in January 2011 as a PhD student. After his graduation in 2014 and two years as a postdoc at the institute, he became team leader of the ultrafast nonlinear optics group within the Division of Philip Russell, who invented the photonic crystal fibre. 2021 Tani succeeded in receiving 755,000 euros in funding for his research as part of the consortium TwistedNano – Twisted nanophotonic technology for integrated chiroptical sensing of drugs on a chip. This collaboration with scientists from all across Europe has been financed by the Pathfinder Open 2021 call of the European Innovation council with a total budget of approximately four million euros.



Edda Fischer

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