Read a brief interview with Dr. Kaminer to learn more about what inspires his research and his plans for future innovations in the optics and photonics field.

ACS Photonics and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, are proud to announce Ido Kaminer, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, as the recipient of the 2024 ACS PhotonicsYoung Investigator Award. This award honors the contributions of an early-career individual who is doing outstanding work in the research areas covered by ACS Photonics.

Ido Kaminer is an Associate Professor at the Technion. In his PhD research, Ido discovered new classes of accelerating beams in nonlinear optics and electromagnetism, for which he received the 2014 American Physical Society (APS) Award for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation in Laser Science. Ido was the first Israeli to win an APS award for his PhD thesis.

Headshot of Ido Kaminer
Ido Kaminer

As a postdoc at MIT, he established the foundations of macroscopic quantum electrodynamics (MQED) for photonic quasiparticles and used it to enable forbidden electronic transitions in atoms. As a faculty member, Ido created a paradigm shift in the understanding of free-electron radiation, connecting it to the field of quantum optics. He performed the first experiment on electron microscopy with quantum light, demonstrating that the quantum statistics of photons can be imprinted on the electron. For his achievements as a faculty member, Ido was recently elected to the Israeli Young Academy, which includes 32 young Israeli faculty members below the age of 45. He has won multiple awards and grants, including the ERC Starting Grant, the Krill Prize, and the 2022 Schmidt Science Polymath Award.

Ido is the laureate of the 2021 Blavatnik Award in Physical Sciences & Engineering in Israel, and the recipient of the 2022 Adolph Lomb Medal, the top international award for a young scientist in the field of optics.

Can you give us a short overview of the research you are currently undertaking?

My group – the AdQuanta Lab – studies the frontiers of photonics, quantum optics, and laser-driven electron microscopy, by developing novel theoretical and experimental methods. Specifically, we employ femtosecond lasers in transmission electron microscopes for new kinds of experiments. We developed a unique microscope that combines record resolution in space & time.

Our work on light–matter interactions in nanophotonics and 2D materials is leading to disruptive applications for novel light sources (e.g., X-ray sources for spectroscopy) and ultrafast detectors (e.g., scintillators for medical imaging). Our research also established the foundations of quantum electrodynamics with photonic quasiparticles. Discoveries in this field predicted new phenomena that arise from engineering the wavefunctions of matter and of photons in specific ways that yield physical situations not encountered in natural settings.

What inspired you to pursue your area of research?

Free-electron science is a very old field, used in many areas of technology. For instance, we already use free-electron radiation in many applications, from microwave ovens to X-ray tubes. There has been a common conception that free-electron radiation in all these applications takes the form of a classical wave. My research in the past few years has corrected this old conception, showing that the free-electron radiation can instead become entangled with the emitting electron. This direction of investigation led to a series of theory papers by different groups and to the first experiments. These works have established a new field that we now call “free-electron quantum optics”.

This field will make impact in several surprising directions:

  • We can use the quantum nature of single electrons to create a new kind of electron microscopy: imaging the quantum coherence of matter.
  • We can control the quantum wave nature of single electrons to shape their radiation into desirable quantum light states, such as non-Gaussian states for continuous-variable quantum information processing.

What advances has your lab made in the past five years?

The AdQuantaLab started in 2018 and is now innovating in free-electron science, connecting this field to quantum information and quantum optics. Our contributions have made a paradigm shift in the understanding of the most fundamental interaction in QED: the interaction between an electron and a photon. QED has been investigated for almost a century, and yet, we made a few new discoveries of great impact in this area.

Specifically, we used single-electron wavepackets to:

  • Create the first compact source of tunable X-rays [Nature Photonics, 2020]
  • Exploit vacuum fluctuations to generate entangled light [Nature Physics, 2019]
  • Demonstrate the first coherent interaction of electrons with photonic cavities [Nature, 2020 and Nature Materials, 2023]
  • Record the dynamics of optical wavepackets of photonic quasiparticles [Science, (June) 2021]
  • Upend established conceptions about the age-old Cherenkov effect [Nature Physics, 2020 and PRX, 2023]
  • Demonstrated that the quantum statistics of photons can be imprinted on free electrons [Science, (August) 2021].

What’s next for your research?

One new direction of research that we are now pursuing is “nanophotonic scintillators”.

Scintillators are materials that convert high-energy particles (like X-rays) to optical photons. Such materials are instrumental to many applications, from medical imaging and security scanners to detectors in cosmology and high-energy physics. Advances in creating better scintillators has been a slow process for many years, and mostly relied on the development of new materials.

In the past few years, we proposed theoretically and demonstrated experimentally the idea that man-made nanophotonic structures can improve scintillators. We developed several concepts such as photonic-crystal scintillators, metasurface-coated scintillators, and Purcell-enhanced scintillators. Generally, the field of nanophotonics has much to contribute to this important area. There is much more place for new ideas and for innovative experiments that will introduce ideas from nanophotonics and combine them with the state-of-the-art of scintillating materials.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone just entering the field?

Take courses in quantum information science, even if this field seems very far from your area of research or very far from your area of interest. The reason I make this recommendation is that the language of quantum information science constitutes a fundamental advance in the way we think about modern science. It is more than just another breakthrough.

I compare it to learning about the Fourier transform. Once you learn it, you cannot think about waves without it. Fourier transforms are so fundamental to the way we think about so many areas of science, that they became a fundamental part of our intuition. My point is that the language and basic tools of quantum information science are as basic as that (these include quantum gates, unitary dynamics, tensor products, entanglement, etc). In the coming years, we will see how they form how we think about both old problems and new ones. This is the case even in fields that seem completely unrelated, like free-electron science and X-ray science. In fact, it may be that supposedly unrelated fields like these are where concepts of quantum information science still have the most to contribute and innovate.