Blog Archives

Optic-fibre sensors enabling aircraft, ships to self-diagnose corrosion

Deputy Director

Prof Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem

The days of Australia’s defence forces routinely deconstructing major equipment to visually inspect for corrosion could soon be over, saving huge amounts of time and money, and possibly even lives.

In a world first, researchers at the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS), University of Adelaide have developed a unique form of optic fibre that can be coated with flurometric corrosion-sensing material—another world-first technique—and embedded throughout the critical structures of aircraft and ships.

Co-lead researcher and IPAS Deputy Director Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem says this means a fighter jet’s wings, for example, could be checked for the early signs of corrosion in a matter of seconds, with no deconstruction required, then be immediately returned to action.

“We’d been working on training light along tiny ‘nano-rail’ fibres threaded through liquids, structures or other mediums as detectors for several years,” says Heike.

“The light in the nano-rails isn’t contained, as it is in standard broadband-Internet optical fibres, but rather is guided along an exposed core, and can interact with surrounding materials to reveal their secrets.

“The Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) asked us to work collaboratively wit them to develop these fibres to detect corrosion in the harsh environments which Defence’s aircraft and ships are exposed to.”
According to Heike, the breakthrough came when co-lead researcher Roman Kostecki developed the world’s first exposed-core optic fibre made from silica.

“This made it sturdy enough for use outside the lab, and allowed us to start applying the technology to real-world problems.”

The team subsequently developed a unique method of coating the fibres with chemicals that respond when light comes into contact with any nearby corrosion by-products, enabling near-instant checks to be conducted by firing lasers along the fibres.

“We’ve already successfully checked for aluminium ions in aircraft-grade materials—the first time that’s ever been done with optical fibres—so we’re very excited to keep expanding the technique’s applications in conjunction with the DSTG.

“It has fantastic potential to create safer aircraft, ships, and even critical structures like bridges, which could ultimately contribute to saving lives.”

The technology has also led to new health-related research, says Heike, including in-vitro-fertilisation (IVF) and water-safety applications.

Article from Research Impact, The University of Adelaide

Photographer: CPL Glen McCarthy

Photographer: CPL Glen McCarthy


Dr Mandy Leung awarded prestigious Postdoctoral Fellowship by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)

Dr Mandy Leung has been awarded a prestigious Postdoctoral Fellowship by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) to study micro- and nano-fluidics at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology. Mandy completed her PhD in Chemistry under the supervision of A/Prof Tak Kee in 2015. Congratulations to Mandy and we wish her all the very best in her upcoming fellowship.

Dr Mandy Leung

Dr Mandy Leung


Research by Dr Phil Light to improve precision measurement of time and frequency

Bidirectional microwave and optical signal dissemination

We have developed a technique to combine and distribute highly stable microwave and optical signals from physically separate frequency standards to multiple locations. This capability can be used to improve precision measurement of time and frequency.

Authors; Light, P., Hilton, A.P., White, R.T., Perrella, C., Anstie, J.D., Hartnett, J.G., Santarelli, G., Luiten, A.N.

Optics Letters 41 (5), pp. 1014-1017 (2016).

Full abstract and paper available here

Phil pigeons

Glass now has smart potential

Australian researchers at the University of Adelaide have developed a method for embedding light-emitting nanoparticles into glass without losing any of their unique properties – a major step towards ‘smart glass’ applications such as 3D display screens or remote radiation sensors.

This new “hybrid glass” successfully combines the properties of these special luminescent (or light-emitting) nanoparticles with the well-known aspects of glass, such as transparency and the ability to be processed into various shapes including very fine optical fibres.

The research, in collaboration with Macquarie University and University of Melbourne, has been published online in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.

 “These novel luminescent nanoparticles, called upconversion nanoparticles, have become promising candidates for a whole variety of ultra-high tech applications such as biological sensing, biomedical imaging and 3D volumetric displays,” says lead author Dr Tim Zhao, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Physical Sciences and Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS).

Although this method was developed with upconversion nanoparticles, the researchers believe their new ‘direct-doping’ approach can be generalised to other nanoparticles with interesting photonic, electronic and magnetic properties. There will be many applications – depending on the properties of the nanoparticle.

“If we infuse glass with a nanoparticle that is sensitive to radiation and then draw that hybrid glass into a fibre, we could have a remote sensor suitable for nuclear facilities,” says Dr Zhao.

 To date, the method used to integrate upconversion nanoparticles into glass has relied on the in-situ growth of the nanoparticles within the glass.

“We’ve seen remarkable progress in this area but the control over the nanoparticles and the glass compositions has been limited, restricting the development of many proposed applications,” says project leader Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heideprem, Deputy Director of IPAS and Senior Investigator of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics.

“With our new direct doping method, which involves synthesizing the nanoparticles and glass separately and then combining them using the right conditions, we’ve been able to keep the nanoparticles intact and well dispersed throughout the glass. The nanoparticles remain functional and the glass transparency is still very close to its original quality. We are heading towards a whole new world of hybrid glass and devices for light-based technologies.”


Dr Tim Zhao

Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem

Prof Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem


Article written by Robyn Mills, The University of Adelaide

Collaborative project with Flinders University “blow in a bag” breath test for cancer

Prof Andre LuitenFlinders University Researcher Dr Roger Yazbek, who is collaborating on an ARC Linkage grant with Prof Andre Luiten on cancer detection, has recently had the following article published in The Advertiser on their research “blow in the bag” breath test for cancer.

They hope the relatively cheap, non-invasive and rapid tests will eventually be similar to breast screening tests, giving an early warning for people who return a positive result to seek further testing.

Flinders University researcher Dr Roger Yazbek is leading the innovative project at the Flinders School of Medicine Breath Analysis Research Laboratory.

He noted that many people think expelled breath is simply carbon dioxide but he said it could carry clues to a range of cancers.

“With more than 2000 compounds in a single human breath, there is plenty of information there about the state of our health,” he said.

“We are developing a comprehensive breath analysis program which covers a range of things including cancers and the results so far are very promising.

“We are still at the laboratory research stage but in the near future hope to extend to clinical trials.

“We have started collecting breath samples from a range of patients to identify a range of biomarkers for cancer — once we have this data, we will conduct validation trials to roll out some of the first tests, perhaps in less than five years.”

The project is initially focusing on gastrointestinal conditions such as stomach cancer and oesophageal cancer. About 1300 and 2000 Australians are diagnosed with these cancers respectively each year.

Dr Yazbek noted the symptoms of oesophageal cancer manifested late, and an early warning test would save lives.

The breath tests use both passive and active tests. The passive tests measures the various compounds a person exhales, looking for clues to health problems.

The active tests involves giving a person a liquid that interacts with an enzyme unique to a cancer, then checking to see if the exhaled breath carries the telltale resulting biomarker.

The research team intend to expand the project to develop a test for inflammatory bowel disease.

They also are collaborating with University of Adelaide and Women’s and Children’s

Hospital to develop novel breath analysis tools to manage other serious conditions, including cystic fibrosis, neurodegenerative diseases and general gut disorders.

Dr Yazbek emphasised that the new technique would not replace existing tests.

“For oesophageal cancer, you would target those most at risk due to age and lifestyle, much like breast screening, and if there was a positive result you would refer them for further traditional tests,” he said.

“A rapid, simple and non-invasive tool would help to guide better clinical management, avoiding repeated and costly invasive tissue testing which also significantly impacts patients’ quality of life.”

A proof-of-concept paper, In Vitro Development and Validation of a Non-Invasive 13C-Stable Isotope Assay for Ornithine Decarboxylase (ODC), was recently published in the Journal of Breath Research, describing how ODC in human breath can be used as a potential prognostic marker for oesophageal cancer.

Article written by The Advertiser

Revolutionary wrist fracture device developed by IPAS Researchers

An innovative new device which will help wrist fractures heal faster and can be fitted more easily by surgeons has been developed, and will be manufactured, in South Australia.

The VRP 2.0 (Volar Radius Plate) is a joint project between the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) and Austofix, an Adelaide-based medical device company specialising in medical devices.

The device design, by Austofix, includes an improved locking mechanism for the plate and an increased variable angle for the screws, which means surgeons can get a better hold on the wrist bone, leading to quicker healing.

The VRP 2.0 will be launched by the end of the year, and is expected to be suitable for treating 90 per cent of all wrist fractures.

“This is one of the exciting outcomes of the Photonics Catalyst Program which brings together university expertise in laser and other light-based technologies (photonics) with industry to support the development of cutting-edge products,” says Professor Andre Luiten, Director of IPAS, and Chair of Experimental Physics with the School of Physical Sciences.

“And as a result of this project and the collaboration that’s been put in place, we are set to become the advanced manufacturing research and development lab for Austofix.”

The VRP 2.0 project was part-funded by the State Government through the Photonics Catalyst Program, a joint initiative between the Department of State Development and IPAS.

“This project brought together Austofix’s regulatory and clinical expertise, designers and engineers with the advanced manufacturing capabilities at IPAS, including 3D metal printing and ultrasonic milling specialists,” says Mr Chris Henry, Austofix General Manager.

“Our Austofix product design engineers, working with IPAS, were able to innovate within a flexible design and manufacturing process. This environment was key to our ability to take the prototype to market within such a short timeframe.”

Over the six month project in consultation with Australian surgeons, many different designs were considered, prototyped and tested for an optimal solution that meets the needs of orthopaedic surgeons.

The work was carried out at the Optofab node of the Australian National Fabrication Facility at the University of Adelaide.

Article written by Robyn Mills at the University of Adelaide

Minister Maher’s remarks on IPAS in the Legislative Council

On 22 March, Minister Maher spoke about IPAS in the Legislative Council.  His full comments are below, but a few highlights include:

  • IPAS was a standout research institute, engaging in cutting-edge research and development with game-changing potential across many areas of industry and technology
  • the State Government was proud to have partnered with IPAS to deliver the Photonics Catalyst Program.  As a result of this program, Trajan had been working with IPAS to fabricate novel ion transfer tubes for mass spectronomy that were then used to undertake chemical analysis in the medical industry.  Trajan had established a new office within the IPAS facility at Adelaide University and were  investigating the possibility of undertaking larger scale manufacturing in South Australia
  • Minister Maher also spoke about the IPAS event he attended last week at the University, which he described as a great opportunity for SA companies to hear from several leading speakers about the transformative potential of photonics
  • The Government was committed to maximising the photonics opportunity for the state.  It had recently provided $200,000 to the University of Adelaide to undertake a photonics value chain analysis to determine the feasibility of further establishing South Australia as a world recognised location of photonics excellence. Through this financial contribution, IPAS had appointed the international photonics expert Dr Bob Lieberman to deliver the photonics value chain analysis.
Hon Kyam Maher speaking at the IPAS Industry Networking Event

Hon Kyam Maher speaking at the IPAS Industry Networking Event


Full details on Minister Maher’s comments below:

Legislative Council


The Hon. G.A. KANDELAARS ( 14:43 ): My question is to the Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation. Can the minister inform the chamber about opportunities in photonics and advanced sensing that may deliver for South Australia?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Employment, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, Minister for Automotive Transformation, Minister for Science and Information Economy) ( 14:43 ): I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest in this area and in areas that are providing future industries and future prospects for South Australia. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing at Adelaide University (IPAS), which I have been to a number of times over the last 12 months or so. While there are a number of distinguished research institutions in South Australia, IPAS is a standout, engaging in cutting-edge research and development with game-changing potential across many areas of industry and technology.

The state government is proud to have partnered with IPAS to deliver the Photonics Catalyst Program, which is connecting South Australian manufacturers with emerging laser and sensor technologies being developed by the institute. The seeds we are sowing with programs such as the Photonics Catalyst Program are creating a positive impact for South Australian companies and companies such as Austofix and Trajan.

Trajan has been working with the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing to fabricate novel ion transfer tubes for mass spectronomy that are then used to undertake chemical analysis in the medical industry. The company, Trajan, has committed to entering into a strategic alliance with IPAS that will initially result in the establishment of a new office within the IPAS facility at Adelaide University. I understand that they are also investigating the possibility of undertaking larger scale manufacturing in South Australia which may include the transfer of some of the manufacturing that Trajan do elsewhere around the world.

The IPAS event last week was a great opportunity for representatives from South Australian companies to hear from several leading speakers about the transformative potential of photonics, sensoring and this sort of measurement. Case studies were presented by Anne Collins from Trajan Scientific and Medical; Chris Henry from Austofix, whose company is engaged in the advanced manufacturing of orthopaedic implants; Dr Gordon Frazer from DSTG, which is involved in the development of things such as the over-the-horizon radar system.

The variety of the companies represented at this event signified the breadth of current applications of these technologies for industry, but equally there are applications that are yet to be fully explored. At this event I also had the opportunity to speak with international photonics expert Dr Bob Lieberman, who is President of the International Society for Optics and Photonics. Photonics is a disruptive technology with the potential to be a game-changer for many companies, including South Australian companies, to solve problems for local, interstate and global customers.

Photonics devices, such as lasers, sensors and optical fibres, are applicable to a number of important local industries, including resources, medical, defence, food and environmental industries. We know that the photonics global market is estimated to be worth around $540 billion and is expected to grow to $950 billion by 2023, so this industry represents a great opportunity for our local research and local advanced manufacturing.

That is why the South Australian government is committed to maximising the opportunity for this state. The government recently provided $200,000 to the University of Adelaide to undertake a photonics value chain analysis to determine the feasibility of further establishing South Australia as a world recognised location of photonics excellence.

Through this financial contribution, the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing at Adelaide University has appointed the international photonics expert Dr Bob Lieberman to deliver the photonics value chain analysis. Very simply put, Dr Lieberman’s work will help the state to develop a road map for light-based technologies in a partnership with the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing.

This project will deliver a comprehensive analysis of South Australia’s existing photonics capabilities within research and industry; an understanding of current and future global market opportunities that utilise photonics technologies and areas where these can be matched to existing capabilities; the necessary actions and projects for industry, research and government to build a photonics industry in South Australia; and research alignment to industry needs and specific projects to take commercial ready or near commercial ready technology to the market.

The road map will provide an important analysis of current and future local, national and international market opportunities relating to photonics. South Australia has globally recognised research expertise in photonics at the University of Adelaide, the University of South Australia, Flinders University and at the Defence Science and Technology Group. We must capitalise on these significant opportunities in this emerging market and the benefits that might present themselves for the South Australian economy.

It is expected that this work will provide the foundations for the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing proposed Photonics SA cluster. I look forward to informing the house in the future on the outcomes of Dr Lieberman’s analysis and the very real opportunities this technology offers for industry in South Australia.

New laser to shine light on remote sensing

A revolutionary new type of laser developed by IPAS members at the University of Adelaide is promising major advances in remote sensing of greenhouse gasses.

Laser red light floodPublished in the journal Optics Letters, a research team from the University of Adelaide and Macquarie University has shown that the new laser can operate over a large range within the infrared light spectrum.

“Most lasers work only at one wavelength of light,” says lead author Dr Ori Henderson-Sapir. “What’s special about this laser is that it not only can change wavelengths (tunability), but that it can be tuned over a very large wavelength range.

“In fact this laser has the largest wavelength tuning ever demonstrated by a fibre laser, and reaches further into the mid-infrared than ever achieved before from a fibre laser operating at room temperature.”

Importantly, the laser operates in a wavelength range in which the ‘molecular fingerprints’ of many organic molecules occur. The ‘fingerprints’ are patterns of light absorption at different frequencies.

“The new laser is operating at a wavelength where many hydrocarbon gases, including the greenhouse gases, absorb light,” says project leader Associate Professor David Ottaway, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Physical Sciences and the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing. “This means that by changing the wavelength of our laser, we can measure the light absorpt

ion patterns of different chemicals with a high degree of sensitivity.

Ori Henderson-Sapir

Ori Henderson-Sapir

“This will allow us to detect small concentrations of these gases at considerable distances (up to 200-300 metres). Remote detection of greenhouse gasses such as methane and ethane opens up the prospect of differentiating between various potential emission sources, such as natural gas extraction and agriculture ─ and so pinpoint areas of concern.”

Other potential applications for the future include the possibility of analysing trace gases in exhaled breath at a clinic to detect the presence of disease. For example, acetone can be detected in the breath when someone has diabetes.

“The main limitation to date with laser detection of these gases has been the lack of suitable and affordable light sources that can produce enough energy and operate at the correct part of the light spectrum,” says Associate Professor Stuart Jackson, of Macquarie University. “The few available sources that can cover the wavelength range necessary for the detection of these gases are generally expensive and bulky and, therefore, not suitable for widespread use.”

The new laser uses an optical fibre which is easier to work with ─ less bulky and more portable ─ and much more cost effective to produce than other types of laser.

A/Prof David Ottaway

A/Prof David Ottaway

“It has incredible potential for scanning for a range of gases with a high level of sensitivity and, because of its affordability, it promises to be a very useful sensing tool,” says Dr Ottaway. “We hope this laser will open up opportunities for lasers in the mid-infrared in a similar manner that that titanium doped sapphire lasers revolutionised lasers operating in the visible and near-infrared.”

This research was supported by the South Australian Government, through the Premiers Research and Industry Fund and the Australian Research Council.

Challenging the theory of time

The Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) in collaboration with BAE Systems in Australia are helping to develop the world’s most accurate clock which will be used to test the foundation theories of physics.  IPAS researchers are currently working on a project with BAE Sytems to build a new generation laser with ten times higher performance than any existing device.

The stable laser will be integral in improving the performance of current optical atomic clocks – accurate to 1 second within 16 billion years. The new cryogenic clock will be used to measure Einstein’s prediction of gravitational time dilation and also to drive Earth’s most precise clock, in Syrte, France.

IPAS Director, Professor Andre Luiten said that to achieve this goal, researchers required highly specialised optical cubes that would be at the heart of the laser system.

“BAE Systems in Adelaide is the only manufacturer in Australia capable of the high precision silicon machining required for this leading edge technology,” said Professor Luiten.

 IPAS Director Prof Andre Luiten

IPAS Director Prof Andre Luiten

“We worked with BAE specialists who were able to fabricate the Si spacer cube to the delicate proportions required and perform the optical bonding of high-reflectivity mirrors to the cube.

“Working with a local company has allowed the researchers to discuss the best approaches to fabrication and to determine tolerances that minimised fabrication costs, whilst meeting requirements.”

The new cryogenic clock will be over 50 times more accurate than atomic clocks that exist today.

Peter Whitteron from BAE Systems Photonics Group said a clock with this extreme accuracy would prove useful beyond telling the time.

“This level of accuracy can be used in fields such as earthquake predictions, synchronisation of the many kilometres of underwater fibre optical communication networks and global positioning systems (GPS).  For example, GPS determines a user’s location by measuring how long it takes the signal from the satellite to travel to a particular location. The more accurate the clock, the more accurate is the capability to pinpoint the user’s location.”

Peter said the team spent more than 12 months working with the IPAS researchers creating the advanced optical cubes.

“It has been an amazing experience to be part of the team creating a new and advanced form of technology that will have an impact on people’s daily lives”.

Article written by BAE Systems – take a look at the BAE Blog

Trajan’s partnership with IPAS announced in Parliament