Somerset House is currently home to UTOPIA 2016: A year of artists, designers, provocateurs and thinkers experimenting with ways we might live, make, work and play.

Last week Reactive Plasmonics co-investigator Riccardo Sapinenza gave a talk at Utopia entitled ‘Light and Glass from Roman glass to nanophotonics’.    Riccardo began his talk by discussing the Lycurgus Cup, a 4th-century Roman glass cage cup made of stained glass. It shows a different colour depending on whether light is passing through it or is reflected from it. It is red when it is lit from behind and green when lit from the front. It is thought to be the only remaining Roman object made from this type of glass and is likely that this nanophotonic-based technique came about as a series of fortunate accidents.

The Lycurgus Cup
The Lycurgus Cup

What is light? Light is an electromagnetic radiation within a certain portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.  Light is emitted and absorbed in tiny energy packets called ‘photons’.  Optics is a branch of physics which involves the behaviours and properties of light and its interactions with matter.  In the example of the Lycurgus Cup the matter is glass and small metallic nanoparticles.

What is colour? A pigment is a material that changes the colour of reflected or transmitted light as the result of wavelength-selective absorption (e.g. Paint, dyes etc). If you mix lots of pigments together the resulting colour would be very dark brown or black. Structural colouration is the production of colour by microscopically structured surfaces fine enough to induce interference of visible light (the iridescence in bird’s feathers is structural). If you mix lots of structural colour the resulting colour would be white. Light interacting with silver and gold nano-particles of different shapes embedded in the glass allows the Lycurgus Cup to change from Green to Red.

Dr Riccardo Sapienza
Dr Riccardo Sapienza

Control of light-matter interaction has led to many different scientific breakthroughs including technology used in solar cells and optical computing, this is something that the Roman’s accidentally discovered which has now grown into a large area of research.  Riccardo’s main scientific interest is nanophotonics and in particular the coherent interaction of light with mesoscopic and nanoscale photonic systems, individually and collectively. It involves a combination of nano-optics, quantum optics and photonics of complex systems.  More information can be found on his website.





Pint of Science

RPLAS affiliated researcher William Wardley took science to the pub last night in Camden. He was taking part in The Pint of Science Festival which runs annually in venues across the UK. The King’s College London Physics Department is in residence at The Colonel Fawcett in Camden (23rd-25th may) with talks on gravity and cosmological inflation.

WillThe Pint of Science festival aims to deliver interesting and relevant talks on the latest science research in an accessible format to the public – all in the pub! In 2012 Dr Michael Motskin and Dr Praveen Paul were two research scientists who started and organised an event called ‘Meet the Researchers’. It brought people affected by Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis into their labs to show them the kind of research they do. It was inspirational for both visitors and researchers. They thought if people want to come into labs to meet scientists, why not bring the scientists out to the people? And so Pint of Science was born. In May 2013 they held the first Pint of Science festival and it quickly took off around the world.

London Plasmonics Forum 2016

The next London Plasmonics Forum will be held on the 9th of June 2016 at King’s College London.

It is open to all researchers and companies in London, UK, Europe and worldwide. Last year’s inaugural London Plasmonic Forum was a sell out event with almost 100 participants. This year young researchers (post-docs and PhD students) can apply to present either a poster or give a talk.

Only posters will be accepted from established researchers.

The registration is free but please register using the link below for logistic purposes.


SPIE Photonics Europe

SPIE Photonics Europe is the premier research conference in Europe presenting metamaterials, nanophotonics, biophotonics, quantum technologies, optical sensing, photonic fibers, and laser technologies among others.


The 2016 conference took place this week (3-7 April 2016) in a sunny Brussels.  Researchers from the Nano-Optics team at King’s College London were there giving talks and presenting posters.

Photo Credit: Luke Nicholls @LHNicholls

Some of the talks included:

Professor Anatoly Zayats – Optical nonlinearities in plasmonic metamaterials

William P. Wardley – Large-area fabrication and characterisation of ultraviolet regime metamaterials manufactured using self-assembly techniques,

Diane Roth – Förster resonance energy transfer between emitters inside a hyperbolic metamaterial

Giuseppe Marino –  Frequency tuneable second-harmonic generation in plasmonic nanorod metamaterial slab

Serena Skov Cambpell – Self-assembled hyperbolic metamaterials in the deep UV





















Photonic spin-Hall effects video

Professor Anatoly Zayats is head of the Experimental Biophysics & Nanotechnology group at King’s College London.

He is the Principal Investigator on Reactive Plasmonics.  In the video below (first presented at Nanolight 2016) he discusses the photonic spin-Hall effects in plasmonics and metamaterials.

Investigator Spotlight – Dr Wayne Dickson

Wayne is a lecturer in Experimental Nanoscience at King’s College London. He is a Co-investigator on Reactive Plasmonics and kindly volunteered to be the first person to be interviewed for the ‘Investigator Spotlight’ feature.


What excites you the most about this research programme?

What’s not to get excited about!? The optical generation of hot electrons is a relatively new field of study, and understanding the underlying physics is, in itself, exciting, but of course, one cannot help looking forward to the unforeseen applications. Plasmonically generated hot electrons have already shown promise in a number of important areas, not least water splitting for hydrogen generation, but there’s much more to come.  As we continue to develop our understanding of the mechanisms involved, it will enable us to optimise and design new nanophotonic and metamaterial architectures with a significant improvement in performance.  From a personal perspective, harnessing the properties of new plasmonic materials (such as topological insulators) in a completely new way represents an incredible opportunity for any scientist in the field of nano-optics. 

What is your particular research area?

My main research focus is the development and characterisation of new nanophotonic structures and plasmonic metamaterials.

WayneWhat are you currently working on?

That’s a secret!


Joking aside, I’m currently investigating metamaterials with a strong optical response from the deep ultraviolet to visible wavelengths using both conventional and unconventional approaches, as well as novel plasmonic metamaterials tailored to exploit hot electron processes.  In order for these materials to have a sustainable impact, most of the fabrication approaches that I investigate tend to be inexpensive and scalable, a task that’s not terribly straightforward on the nanoscale.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

What? Work stops? I don’t have much time to devote to outside interests, but when I do have some free time I enjoy playing guitar, as well as building audio electronics as a hobby, which ties in well with my guitar playing.  I’m also a keen runner, which helps me keep up with our enthusiastic undergraduate and post-graduate students!

Do you have any advice to young people who’d like to get into science?

I have the same advice that I would give to anyone who has a strong interest in any discipline, and that is to simply be led by that interest, and pursue it.  In any field hard work is required and science is certainly no different, but if you relish exploring new scientific frontiers, as I do, then it seems less like work and more like a hobby.

As for practical advice, then read as much about the topics that interest you as possible, always ask questions and certainly don’t be discouraged by what you don’t know – science is a process of constant learning and discovery!


Many thanks for your time Wayne!


© Reactive Plasmonics 2021