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Sajeev John wins Killam Prize for pioneering photonics research

University of Toronto physicist Sajeev John is the winner of one of five 2014 Killam Prizes.

One of Canada’s most prestigious scholarly awards, the Killam Prize recognizes outstanding career achievement by scholars actively engaged in research. It is administered by the Canada Council for the Arts and comes with a $100,000 prize.

The award recognizes John’s pioneering work on the localization of light and the invention and development of new Photonic Band Gap (PBG) materials. His leading research, in which the flow of light is manipulated in much the same way that electricity is steered through micro-electronic circuits, may enable the development of photonic computers using laser light to carry information instead of electric current. The result would be faster, less expensive and more versatile tools in the computer and telecommunications industries. Other applications include novel fibres for laser surgery and light-trapping in thin films for efficient solar energy harvesting.

John’s theoretical framework for light localization PBG materials was laid out in his Harvard PhD thesis in 1984 and further refined through the conception of PBG materials in 1987 while he was an assistant professor of theoretical physics at Princeton.

“Trapping light fascinated me as a student at Harvard,” said John. “No one else believed it was possible at the time, but I felt it was very fundamental and could have major consequences. When the photonic band gap concept dawned in my mind, I realized the dream could come true.”

Theory became reality over the next two decades in major laboratories around the world. After joining U of T in 1989, John began working with U of T chemistry professor Geoffrey Ozin, U of T physicist Henry van Driel and a team of scientists from Spain to build the first self-assembled silicon-based PBG material in 2000. Since then, John and fellow researchers have refined theory and technique to create PBG materials that are easier and cheaper to manufacture.

“The resulting field of photonic crystals has surpassed all expectations,” said John. “It allows us to tailor the fundamental electromagnetic force. It enables micro-manipulation of laser light for optical computing, trapping of sunlight for thin film solar cells and localization of light for medical diagnostics and therapy. The future looks bright for the control of light.”

“The discoveries made possible by Sajeev John have revolutionized the field of photonics, and the university community is thrilled to see one of our own recognized with this year’s Killam Prize in Physics,” says Professor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-president, research. “The work being recognized also represents the finest in interdisciplinary collaboration.

“In developing PBG materials, Professor John not only drew on his many years of brilliant research dating back to his doctoral dissertation, but also turned repeatedly to U of T colleagues who were world-leading experts in different areas.”

John has received many international awards and honours recognizing the importance of his research, including the King Faisal International Prize for Science (2001), the Nanotechnology Pioneer Award (2008), the Humboldt Senior Scientist Award and the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2000-02). Canadian honours include the Herzberg Medal of the Canadian Association of Physicists (1995), the Steacie Prize of the National Research Council of Canada (1997), the Killam Research Fellowship of the Canada Council of the Arts (1998-2000), the Brockhouse Canada Prize (2004) and the Canada Research Chair in Optical Sciences (2000 – present). He recently received the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Quantum Electronics Award and the C.V. Raman Chair Professorship (2007-2008) of the Indian Academy of Sciences.

In addition to his primary appointment with the Department of Physics at U of T, John holds an appointment at U of T’s Institute for Optical Sciences. He was named University Professor, the U of T’s highest designation for a faculty member, in 2001.

Andreas Mandelis of U of T’s Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering also received a 2014 Killam Prize. Previous Killam recipients from U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science include computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton, physicist Richard Peltier and linguist Keren Rice.

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