Entrance hall of the ICMSMetamaterials beyond Photonics

In June 2016, ICMS hosted a workshop on Metamaterials beyond photonics

A metamaterial is a synthetic inhomogeneous material with wave bearing properties that differ significantly from those exhibited by homogeneous media, due to its complex microstructure. The idea of being inhomogeneous materials to control and guide wave propagation is well established: for example the optical fibres used in the telecommunications industry are typically constructed by placing a cladding around a core with a higher dielectric constant. The aims of this meeting were to keep the UK at the forefront of developments in this rapidly developing field and to enable young researchers to meet and interact with established international experts. The workshop brought together mathematicians, physicists and engineers to exchange ideas and contrast their different approaches to the theoretical and practical challenges that metamaterials present.

Delegates at the Metamaterials beyond Photonics  workshop 2016

There were 45 delegates at the workshop. With delegates from academia, industry (Thales, Dyson) and government (Dstl) there was full timetable with lots of talks and time for networking.  On the Tuesday evening, Ross McPhedran gave a public lecture, Controlling Waves: 500 Million Years Ago to Tomorrow.

Whilst the workshop was on, we took the opportunity to speak to  the delegates in a bit more detail.

Olga Umnova, University of Salford


Olga was born in Russia.  She did a masters in theoretical physics, before moving into the area of acoustics.  After her PhD and post doc appointments she moved to the University of Salford which has a big acoustics department.  She has been there 12 years and feels Manchester is the best city in the world, it is very diverse and you can cycle everywhere.

Can you tell me what you were expecting when you signed up for this event and what have you got out of it so far?

I had no firm expectations.  There are lots of big names in the area taking part so I was slightly intimidated to be giving a talk.  However, the atmosphere has been great.  There is a wide range of talks, reviewing past work and covering recent research.  It has been great to find out what people are doing and meet the big names in this area.  It has been exciting and impressive.

What have you found most enjoyable about the week so far?

Listening to the talks.  I have been writing lots in my notebook as it is giving me ideas/inspiration that I don’t want to forget.

How does participating in this workshop differ from your normal day?

Time for research.  In my normal day I am continually balancing the demands of teaching, student commitments with my research.  Here I can focus on my research, although I still have to answer work emails in the breaks!

Have you met interesting people?  

Yes, acoustic research tends to be a male-dominated area, so I’ve really enjoyed meeting the female researchers.  It has been really refreshing and stimulating to talk to them about how they balance successful research careers with a busy home life.

What new connections have you made? 

I already knew the Manchester people but this has firmed up some of those connections

What might this lead to? 

Hopefully, we’ll collaborate more from now on, but it is a bit early to tell

Have you been to many other events?

I tend to attend big conferences.  This meeting is smaller but it does mean you mix more and have a good chance to have conversations will pretty much all of the delegates.

Who is your favourite mathematician/scientist and why?

I have more of an Engineering/Applied Science background, but would like to choose someone from my area of research and who is at this meeting, John Pendry.  His work and approach was inspiring and had deep implications for the area.  His talks was earlier today so I am feeling particularly inspired by him.

How can we increase diversity in mathematics?

For gender balance, I think it is important to acknowledge that some areas (e.g. acoustics) are naturally more attractive to one gender over another and we shouldn’t try to artificially change that, but use efforts to support where they are needed.  With students from underprivileged backgrounds, we often get very bright pupils but their school exams don’t reflect this, so I think there is a real challenge for the schools in those areas to address this.

Do you prefer blackboard or powerpoint?

Blackboard definitely!  My university is always trying to remove whiteboards/blackboards and replace with electronic screens – this is a mistake.


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