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Christian Reimer, rising star in optics research

December 6, 2018

Update : November 3, 2020

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar, who authored 16 scientific publications and 6 patent applications during his doctoral studies, receives the 2018 CAGS/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award.
Christian Reimer’s doctoral dissertation is unlikely to be filed away and forgotten. It has been selected as the year’s best in engineering, medical sciences, and natural sciences by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies for its description of how and why the use of photons (light particles) on optical chips can become one of the key technologies for optical quantum computing and encrypted communications. Currently pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, the INRS graduate looks back on an academic journey marked by teamwork, perseverance, and a bit of luck.
Quantum optics is a rather obscure field to most people, who tend to frown and recoil at the mere mention of the subject. “In fact, it’s a highly developed and well-funded field that has attracted research groups around the world,” says Christian. And there is good reason for all the tumult: in the race to create quantum computers, photons are the only quantum information carriers that can be transmitted in network. Whatever form quantum computers will take, they will need quantum optics to carry and transmit quantum data.
Do not work alone! You must discuss your projects and challenges with your colleagues and collaborators. Associate yourself in a team that gives you support.
“I became fascinated with optics and photonics during my master’s degree, because these disciplines open up versatile possibilities that are very exciting to me,” he continues. He was studying physics at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany when he first began exploring the science of light. “What’s unique to optics and photonics is that you can design experiments very quickly to test out your ideas. That’s one of the things I really love.”
Optics describes how light behaves, while integrated photonics is the study of light signals and their control on optical chip. INRS professor Roberto Morandotti is a leading expert in the field. “I knew Professor Morandotti’s work. He’s very well known in the field,” says Christian. “I met one of his students, who told me about the INRS lab and life in Montreal. The idea of doing high-impact scientific work with Morandotti’s team and all the things his former student described convinced me to give it a shot.”
With a prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship in hand, he joined Professor Morandotti’s lab in 2012. But during the first year of his PhD, Christian’s determination was really put to the test. The experimental setup he planned to use for his studies in quantum optics wouldn’t work, it wouldn’t register any signals. Through trial and error and insight from the rest of the team, he managed to conduct his first successful experiments. He laboured away for two more years before finding a way to create quantum correlations between two photons, a step that was foundational for the rest of the project. 
Christian was already beginning to have an impact through his publications. His work appeared in leading journals, including Nature, Science, Nature Photonics, Nature Physics, Nature Communications, and Optics Express, and resulted in six patent applications. Christian says he owes his success to “a combination of tenacity, hard work, an incredible team, and good bit of luck. The project was ambitious and difficult, and it could easily have led to a less successful outcome. But the team’s determination and dedication and Prof. Morandotti’s willingness to invest in the project really made a difference.”
Based on his experience, Christian’s advice to future doctoral candidates is this: “Don’t work alone! You have to discuss your projects and challenges with colleagues and collaborators. Be part of a supportive team, and don’t overdo it. Take breaks. It took me a while to realize that taking a few days off to free up my mind to come up with new ideas and more energy was more productive than doubling down trying to force solutions.”
Now he is applying these principles to his work in a research group at Harvard, specializing in the nanofabrication of complex materials. As fascinated as ever by photonics, nonlinear optics, and quantum optics, he is working one new integrated photonics platforms that can enable novel functionalities for the next generation of optical networks and quantum photonics. ♦