Photonics for devices, networks and energy

Research in photonics, that which embraces the science and technology of light, is having an impact on our lives much like what has been seen in previous electronic and digital revolutions. The various applications of photonics range from communications technology (i.e. transmission of voice, video and data on light waves) to entertainment systems, and from biology (i.e. surgeons utilizing lasers in surgery) and quantum computation to environmental sensing (i.e. laser scanners reading bar codes) and green technologies (i.e. solar energy). Photonics have an often unseen but crucial role to play in almost all areas of life, enabling new and advanced technologies.

The Centre for Research in Photonics at uOttawa is a world-recognized research facility in which our Faculty’s researchers are hard at work to bring you the latest developments and innovations to truly transform our present into the future.

Areas of research

  • Solar energy
  • Biophotonics
  • Microwave photonics
  • Plasmonics
  • Quantum photonics
  • Fibre optics
  • Optoelectronics
  • Optical materials


Converting energy at the nanoscale to reduce energy waste

Video demonstrating sub-100 distance control between parallel surfaces for near-field radiative heat transfer experiments. The whole frame is less than 0.05 mm wide.

Video demonstrating sub-100 distance control between parallel surfaces for near-field radiative heat transfer experiments. The whole frame is less than 0.05 mm wide. Photo credit : St-Gelais Lab

Of all the energy consumed in the world, over 50% of it is wasted as heat in the surrounding environment, with less than 0.5% of this heat being converted back into electrical power. Professor Raphael St-Gelais and his team are working to create a solution that would recycle this heat into electricity using a portable conversion module, which could be mounted directly onto any hot surface.

Large scale solutions do exist at the moment, though their portability is minimal, if even possible at all. Their smaller counterparts, such as thermoelectric generators, are typically very costly and low in efficiency. St-Gelais hopes to change this using a novel-yet-promising approach called Near-Field Thermophotovoltaics, a theory that has been highly researched but never demonstrated.

The basis is that thermal light emitted by a heat source can be converted into electrical power. To do so, St-Gelais uses a specially tailored photovoltaic cell, which is placed extremely close to the hot material, such that the thermal radiation intensity is enhanced by near-field effects. However, the distance between the cell and the heated material must be nanometric, which is extremely challenging to achieve.

In order to overcome this obstacle, Professor St-Gelais and his team have built micro machines to control the distance and are working towards the first-ever demonstration of this heat-to-energy conversion using an actual photovoltaic cell.

The St-Gelais Lab distinguishes itself by working at the intersection of photonics and optics, micro mechanics and thermal transfer. Their goal? To drastically improve on existing technology and reduce energy waste. Possible applications for this include capturing heat emitted by a car and re-investing into its engine as energy or allowing those in remote locations to generate their own electricity locally.

If you wish to reach out to Professor St-Gelais or learn more about his research, please visit his contact page.

uOttawa's SUNLAB shines light on future of green energy

Karin Hinzer and her 3 students showcasing solar panels

When Karin Hinzer first began research into renewable energy more than 10 years ago, she was convinced the technology wasn’t going to be that useful.

It was only in discussing her work with a classroom full of students that the potential for the technology was put into perspective for the University of Ottawa professor.

“All my students just wanted to work on things to help address global issues,” she says. Today, Hinzer continues to teach with the university’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and serves as the founder and director of the SUNLAB, which is Canada’s premier solar cell research facility.

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