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2019 James Joule Medal and Prize

Professor Robert Hadfield for the advancement of infrared single photon detection technology, through innovations in superconducting devices and cryogenic engineering.


Head and shoulders photograph of Professor Robert Hadfield. He's wearing glasses, a dark blue jacket and tie and a light blue shirt. Trees and green foliage is in the background.

Robert Hadfield is an internationally recognized pioneer and expert in single photon detection. He has made crucial and sustained contributions to the development and practical introduction of a new infrared photon counting device – the superconducting nanowire single-photon detector (SNSPD). SNSPDs offer single-photon detection deep into the infrared, with superb signal-to-noise and exquisite timing resolution. SNSPDs now provide the gold standard in infrared single-photon detection, outperforming photomultipliers and semiconductor avalanche photodiodes. By solving major cryogenic and optical engineering challenges, Hadfield has brought this game-changing low temperature technology forward into a host of new scientific domains.

Hadfield completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2003.  As a postdoctoral researcher at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (2003-2007), Hadfield integrated fibre-coupled SNSPDs into closed-cycle refrigeration systems, eliminating reliance on liquid cryogens. This innovation enabled a new world record in quantum cryptography in optical fibre. Moving to Scotland as a Royal Society University Research Fellow in 2007 he established a thriving independent group at Heriot-Watt University and forged wide-ranging new partnerships. He delivered SNSPD systems to the UK Physical Laboratory, the Bristol Centre for Quantum Photonics and ID Quantique, Switzerland. His expertise has underpinned seminal demonstrations in integrated quantum photonics, quantum communication networks, long range single-photon depth imaging and dosimetry for laser-based cancer treatment.

He joined the University of Glasgow as Professor of Photonics in 2013.  Through the UK Quantum Technology Hub in Quantum Enhanced Imaging (QuantIC, 2014-present) Hadfield partnered with STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Dutch start-up Single Quantum BV to demonstrate a revolutionary miniaturized closed-cycle 4 K cooler (originally developed for the European Space Agency Planck space mission) as a mobile platform for SNSPDs. This demonstrator was unveiled at the November 2016 National Quantum Technology Showcase in Westminster and was acclaimed as a technical tour de force.

Hadfield’s work has been recognized by several prestigious awards: the Institute of Refrigeration J&E Hall Gold Medal (2012) and the Institute of Physics Superconductivity Group Brian Pippard Prize (2013).  He has been elected a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Optical Society of America and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  His work is currently supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, a European Research Council Consolidator Grant and a Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship. He is a sought-after speaker at international conferences and will himself chair a major international conference in Scotland in 2019 (the European Applied Superconductivity Conference, EUCAS 2019).

Read about our Silver Subject Medals.