The physics of tiny things

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Although his research focus is quite literally tiny, it has considerable societal relevance. Yannick Dumeige from France is an expert in nanophotonics. This field of optical physics deals with phenomena at the nano level, that is to say with the characteristics of particles that are only around a billionth of a metre in size. Dumeige is currently working on developing highly-sensitive nanosensors capable of measuring magnetic fields with great accuracy. There are possible applications for such sensors in fields such as mechanical engineering and material development. Nanosensors are also becoming increasingly important in modern medicine – for example in magnetocardiography, which involves measuring the heart’s magnetic field.

Close Franco-German contacts

The physics of tiny things
The French physicist Yannick Dumeige is researching nanosensors.

Normally Dumeige teaches at the University of Rennes in the north-west of France. The physics professor spent the first half of 2018 at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, however. "The working conditions there were excellent and allowed me to concentrate completely on my research for six months", the 42-year-old enthuses. It was not by chance that he chose to spend his time abroad in a lab in Germany. For years, he has been in close contact with his Mainz-based colleague Dmitry Budker, a professor in experimental atomic physics. The two scientists first met in Berkeley in 2012. Ever since Budker was appointed to a chair in Mainz in 2014, Dumeige has spent several weeks-long stretches working on novel types of sensor with Budker’s team there.

Flexible research stays

Dumeige and Budker looked into different funding options that would allow them to continue their productive collaboration. They discovered the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award granted by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Each year, the foundation picks 20 internationally recognised researchers from abroad for the award. They need to be nominated by German colleagues in the same field. The award not only honours their outstanding achievements but also allows the researchers to pursue a research project of their own choice in Germany. Dumeige was one of the award-winners in 2017. "For me it was particularly convenient that the Humboldt Foundation gives one the freedom and flexibility to divide up the one-year stay in Germany as one wishes." As a result, he initially spent six months in Mainz in 2018, and has further short stays planned for 2019.

Specialists from different fields of physics

"I find this collaboration very inspiring", says Dumeige, "because it allows us to combine methods used in atomic, molecular and optical physics." Scientists around the world are working to further develop nanosensors – "research in this area is thriving". Dumeige himself began specialising in nanophysics at an early stage, nanostructures were already the subject of his doctoral thesis in Paris. In Rennes, where he has held a chair since 2003, his fields of interest include nonlinear optics, optical signal processing, optical magnetometry and integrated optics.

"Whatever happens, we want to continue our cooperation", says the physicist. Which is why he and his colleague Budker are in the process of applying for funding for a follow-up research project. The plan is for it also to involve physicists from Saarbrücken and Ulm, thereby further expanding the Franco-German collaboration.

Various options for young researchers

Students and young researchers will find good conditions for studying at German universities. According to the CHE Ranking, universities that are outstanding in the field of physics include the following:

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

RWTH Aachen University

Technische Universität Dresden

Technical University of Munich

Heidelberg University

Young physicists can also find a wide range of research opportunities at non-university research institutions in Germany, for example at the:

Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics, Freiburg

Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, Dresden

Leibniz Institute for New Materials, Saarbrücken

Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, Garching

Physics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Three physics institutes belong to the Faculty of Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Mainz. They teach the theory and practice of physics, nuclear physics and atmospheric physics. A graduate school in materials science and the cluster of excellence "Precision Physics, Fundamental Interactions and Structure of Matter" create good conditions for top-level research. > Faculty 08: Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science