Science, Technology and Innovation



The Optics Program provides advanced research training for many of ICTP’s TRIL Fellows and Associates. The research is inherently interdisciplinary and covers applications to nuclear physics, health, food science, chemical, environmental research and materials science using a number of approaches and laboratories. It maintains strong working collaborations with INFN Trieste, INFN Frascati, the University of Nova Gorica in Slovenia, and the National Institute for Research and Development of Isotopic and Molecular Technologies, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. It receives substantial operating funds through contributions from SPIE, the International Society of Optics and Photonics, through its Anchor Research Program with ICTP. There are several laboratories, both at Elettra Synchrotron Facility and the ICTP Optics Laboratory on the ICTP campus. The latter is currently situated in the Enrico Fermi building and coordinated by Dr. Humberto Cabrera.

The ICTP Optics Laboratory enables training as well as scientific collaboration of students and visitors and has two separate directions: photothermal spectroscopy and a quantum cascade laser coupled to cavity ring down spectroscopy for trace gas detection. Research is carried out in a number of areas, including material characterization, environmental and analytical chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, and ecology. Currently, activities of the laboratory are directed to

  • the development of laser-based methods, bioanalytical methods, for the identification and determination of toxic compounds in the environment,
  • the investigation of photocatalytic degradation of pollutants in the environment,
  • implementation of on-line thermal lens detection for electrophoresis techniques,
  • separation and detection of biomolecules using electrophoresis coupled with thermal lens spectrometry,
  • determination of thermo-optical properties of materials by thermal lens spectrometry and beam deflection spectroscopy.

Scientific Advisory Board

The optics program at ICTP reports to an external advisory board, the Trieste System Optical Sciences and Applications board (TSOSA). TSOSA is composed of representatives of the major optics organizations globally including The Optical Society (OSA) , SPIE, The International Society for Optics and Photonics, the International Commission for Optics (ICO), IEEE Photonics Society, Sincrotrone Trieste (Elettra), the European Optical Society (EOS), the African LAM Network, the Tunisian Optical Society, and INFN Trieste. The TSOSA board meets annually at the ICTP during the annual Winter College in Optics and advises on all aspects of the program.

Ongoing research

Thermal lens spectrometry coupled to electrophoresis for environmental research and biochemical analysis

Among the main research facilities, we have a highly sensitive analytical method based on on line detection by thermal lens spectrometry, which is coupled to an electrophoresis technique for biotechnology and nanotechnology applications. During separation each component can be detected on line by a thermal lens microscope.

Beam deflection spectroscopy for material characterization

In the field of material characterization the laboratory is equipped with a beam deflection spectroscopy technique for determination of thermo-optical properties of opaque samples. The research is focused on determination of thermal diffusivity and thermal conductivity of 2D materials and photonic crystals.

Mid-IR projects in fundamental and applied optics

There are two distinct threads in the area of high power, mid-IR low bandwidth signals. The first involves a quantum cascade laser (QCL) to perform spectroscopy of trace gases. A second fork is a project to measure fundamental properties of the proton using similarly high power, mid-IR, low bandwidth signals derived from difference frequency generation. This experimental apparatus is situated at the Elettra Synchrotron Facility.

The QCL project is located on the ICTP campus together with the thermal lens spectroscopy apparatus. Currently, the principal user of this experimental equipment is Komlan GADEDJISSO-TOSSOU from Togo. Komlan has utilized the ICTP TRIL program to make frequent visits to Trieste and leads the experimental efforts in QCL trace gas detection. The system was demonstrated to be a high-resolution spectrometer able to analyze experimentally the absorption line of the ν4 fundamental vibrational band of ammonia centered at 1468.898 cm−1 (6.807 µm).

High-precision laser spectroscopy measurement of the hyperfine splitting in the ground state of muonic hydrogen: Collaboration in the FAMU project

This work is being carried out locally at Elettra (Sincrotrone Trieste) for the laser development and with collaborators at Rutherford Laboratories in Oxford, UK to provide pulsed muon beams.

Specifically, within the Fisica degli Atomi MUonici (FAMU) project, which involves 13 institutions from across Europe, we are developing a spectroscopic mid-infrared laser source with difference frequency generation, for high precision measurements of muonic atom spectroscopic transitions. This research line has the following key objectives:

  1. Determination of the Zemach radius of the proton, the first moment of the convolution of its electric charge, and magnetic moment distributions, with an accuracy better than 1%.
  2. Disentangle the present ambiguities about the proton charge radius contributing, with new independent precision measurements, to study the electromagnetic structure of proton and muon nucleon interactions.
  3. Give the needed completion to a cycle of high-precision exotic atom counterparts of the historical measurements of the Lamb shift and the hyperfine splitting in ordinary hydrogen, a step of great importance as fundamental tests of QED.
  4. Open a new frontier in the context of testing fundamental interactions by exploring the limits of a very precise theoretical prediction, and therefore sensitive to new phenomena that potentially could probe physics beyond the Standard Model.

Ongoing Projects

We are currently working to develop two projects focused on optical cryptography and photothermal spectroscopy coupled to gel electrophoresis.