NRC photonics researcher named International Fellow by the Royal Academy of Engineering

- Ottawa, ON,

One of the world’s most prestigious engineering societies, the Royal Academy of Engineering (London) has just elected the National Research Council’s (NRC) Dr. Pavel Cheben as an International Fellow.

The Principal Research Officer in the Advanced Electronics and Photonics Research Centre joins 68 other scientists who have reshaped the world with transformative engineering research. Each contributing something unique and fundamental to civilization, these experts include Nobel laureates, presidents of the National Academy of Science, chief executives of global enterprises and other luminaries.

“We can envision their work as different pieces of Lego with which we construct the technological edifice of our modern society,” says Dr. Cheben. “I am deeply honoured to be 1 of 2 Canadians—and the first NRC scientist—elected in the history of the Academy. As both a Canadian and Slovakian citizen, I am also delighted to join 11 international European fellows of the Academy.”

He adds that this tribute is not only a recognition of the global importance of his work, but also of his colleagues in the NRC nanophotonics team, collaborators and students in Canada and Europe, and the NRC as a whole. He is also an adjunct professor at Carleton University, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, McMaster University, University of Malaga and University of Zilina.

A founder of metamaterial integrated photonics

Dr. Cheben has 38 invention disclosures and patents. Metamaterial integrated photonics uses his invention of a new silicon waveguide to build photonic devices in a circuit. This nanostructured synthetic composite exhibits properties not usually found in natural materials, a metamaterial that can be engineered directly onto a silicon chip. This entirely new field of research radically changes how integrated photonics works and solidifies his stature as a founder of metamaterial integrated photonics.

These vital breakthroughs have inspired many groups in academia and industry to pursue work in this surging field. For example, Dr. Cheben’s subwavelength metamaterial coupler has been adopted for volume optoelectronic (electronic devices that find, detect and control light) chip manufacturing by industry players such as IBM (U.S.A.), Global Foundries (U.S.A.) and CEA-Leti (France). Such coupling interfaces are critical because every photonic chip must be connected optically with the external world. They power everything from the infrastructure of global optical communications to next-generation consumer electronics and computers.

Building on this discovery, Dr. Cheben looks forward to continuing his exploration of uncharted areas of photonics fundamentals. “We must keep in mind that the kind of technology we will have in the future depends directly on foundational discoveries we make today,” he says.

A career recognized internationally

At only 56, Dr. Cheben has published an enormous number of articles about integrated photonics and has been the NRC’s most-published scientist since 2008. His works have generated more than 700 journal and conference papers with over 15,500 citations, and over 300 invited talks at leading international conferences and research centres.

In addition to being elected as a fellow of 10 academic and professional societies in Canada and around the world, he is the only Canadian and 1 of just 4 North American scientists elected as a Fellow of the European Optical Society. The President of Slovakia invested him with the Order of the Republic, while the Slovak Academy of Sciences awarded him their highest honour—the International Prize. He has also received the Government of Canada’s Public Service Excellence Award, the NRC Research Excellence Award and an NRC Industrial Achievement Award.

When asked about the roots of his success, Dr. Cheben credits an “outstanding” public education in Czechoslovakia during his formative years, from elementary school to university. He says that this was augmented by solid advice from his parents, both teachers, who instilled in him the principle of pursuing knowledge and intellectual development, and by his grandmother, who taught him “there is no true progress in anything we do in life unless we constantly strive for the betterment of our inner self.”

Pavel Chaben
Dr. Pavel Cheben