How to Be a Russian Master`s Student and Australian PhD Researcher at the Same Time

From the very beginning: about the choice, supervisors and rules

When a second-year student I had to offer a field to work on. It was a moment when we started to turn ourselves into researchers. Coincidentally, six years ago Yuri Kivshar, world`s famous researcher, won a large grant, which made possible to organize International Research Center “Metamaterials” nowadays headed by Pavel Belov. Currently the center, which is well-known by international academic community, includes over 100 researchers, I also among them. Irina Melchakova, head of International Research Center “Applied Radio Physics” who supervised our physics classes at that period and also collaborated with Mr. Belov, offered my colleagues and me to try hand at a job interview. I was interested in it as some of my classmates. We passed several tests and then Pavel Belov offered us positions. In January 2011 me and my colleague Dmitry Filonov, who now study at one of the most prestigious universities of Israel, got the first research experience dealing with serious experiments and research projects. It was a starting point of our academic career.

Yuri Kivshar and Pavel Belov shared standards peculiar to international academic community with Russian researchers. That is why the lab became a large scientific institution. International Research Center “Nanophotonics and Metamaterials” competes with influences centers from all over the world by providing promising projects and publishing many articles in top world`s journals. It is very easy to get in contact with famous researchers and discuss any idea or problem because all of us communicate in informal way even with supervisors and heads. 

Dmitry Filonov and Alexey Slobozhanyuk, International Research Center “Nanophotonics and Metamaterials”


From Bachelor`s degree in St. Petersburg to PhD level in Australia

While following Bachelor`s program I worked in the lab. When my studies have come to the end I was offered to go to Australia to get PhD degree. It is possible to enroll without Master`s certificate if a student has a recommendation letter, excellent marks and achievements in research. Now I know that it is possible at Australian and British universities. Mr. Kivshar offered me to go abroad and at the same time continue my studying at ITMO U distantly. Pavel Belov also appreciated my idea despite of the fact that I was involved in domestic projects.

Obviously it was not very easy. First of all I had to pass IELTS. It took three times to succeed in it. Then I enrolled in ITMO U`s Master`s course, sent a year there and then was offered to follow an individual distant studying plan so as to attend classes in Australian National University. 


Russian theoretical background VS Australian applied course

It is not a secret that education and research are dissimilar in different countries. While working on microwave experiments in Russia I had no specific issues to focus on. I studied and researched electromagnetic metamaterials in general. In Australia I had to choose a field to contribute to it. To provide my PhD studies I choose two topics because I am interested in both fundamental and applied aspects. Thus I researched electromagnetic topological insulators and application of metamaterials to magnetic resonance imaging. Studying of topological insulators is a theoretical research, however it requires to deal with extremely interesting physical processes. We have already achieved several results that were respected by our colleagues. It will be possible to apply them in five-six years turning a dream of many people to provide 100% effective communication without information loss to reality.

Unlike Russia in Australia students don`t have to attend classes and pass exams. There are only several compulsory disciplines such as ethics, it takes about  a week to follow these classes. Then students choose only those disciplines that they need. For instance, if one needs to go deeper into nanophotonics he or she can attend extra classes for free. The core target is research. Every week we have workshops at which we discuss problems and make brainstorms. If students don`t know how to solve a problem they can address any specialist at the research center.

International collaborations and incredible solutions

Being a scientist of the international research center I can collaborate with ITMO University`s and National Australian University`s experts as well as researchers of City University of New York and several scientific teams at the Netherlands. For example, we were the first in the world who offered to use a new application of metamaterial-based resonators for magnetic resonance imaging. It will give an opportunity to define tumors right after they have appeared and analyze more than MRI devices can do. Currently we work on a project  called “smart clothes.” For instance, Mediwise company is working on a “yoga rug.” One can put a patient on it and then provide MRI scanning. It will take five minutes instead of 40 to get clear images of internals. The rag, which costs several thousand euro makes effectives of MRI device with 1.5 Tesla field force, which costs 1.5 million Euro, the same as effectiveness of the device with 3 Tesla field force, which costs twice as much.

Furthermore together with international colleagues we develop various topological insulators. The main idea is to carry electrical current through the insulator but not through the material because of its` isolating features. However its` ends are current conducting thanks to unique edge states.

I started to study one-dimensional topological insulators at ITMO University in 2013 in alliance with my colleague Alexander Poddubny who suggested a fantastic idea! He offered to develop an electromagnetic structure in which one can obtain safe topological edge states. Moreover, it was the first world`s experiment in obtaining subwave edge states (researchers dealt with states that were smaller than a light wave length). A short while ago we provided several experiments and proved this theoretical idea.  Moreover prestigious scientific journal Optics & Photonics News announced this paper as one of the best in 2015.

Two-dimensional topological insulator studying was a new topic for me. I started focusing on it in Australia. Furthermore I went to the USA to consult with Alexander Khanikaev who serves as a researcher at City University of New York as well as takes part in ITMO University Professorship program. He developed pioneering research works in the field of two-dimensional topological insulators based on metamaterials. Thanks to two-dimensional electromagnetic states one can determine all features and advantages of these structures that can be applied for controlling electromagnetic waves spreading.  For example, Professor Khanikaev headed the pioneering experiment in which I also took part. We analyzed two-dimensional topological insulator based on bianisotropic metamaterials. We also wondered if it was possible to control edge state spreading not only in plane, but also in the third direction. We aspire to control electromagnetic wave spreading completely. This ambitious aim wasn`t set by any research team. It will give us an opportunity to make new discoveries in optical computing. Currently we are going to develop an experimental electromagnetic 3D topological insulator using facilities of Russian and Australian labs.


Facing future

Research experience and following PhD course at the leading nonlinear physics center allow me to make great progress, which I have never dreamed about. Thanks to Mr. Belov and Mr. Kivshar I can work with world`s top researchers as well as know what promising technologies one should develop in five-ten years. I am going to receive my PhD degree and then come back to Russia to use this invaluable experience here and share it with my collagues.