The New Way of Teaching Metamaterials

The development of such a course – it being a one-of-a kind program in Russia – came with its own natural difficulties. The greatest problem was the total lack of any kind of former experience that could be used during the work on the program, which meant that the staff had to make it from scratch.

Mikhail Petrov, the Chair’s professor of Quantum Optics: “We have really experienced staff working for the Chair, and that is why we’ve succeeded in making this program. Our first students, though few, were, so to say, in the class of their own, which allowed us to test the program efficiently. We’ve set high standards to their performance, so some of them did not make it to the graduation. Still, we can be rightfully proud of those who did”.

One can enter the Chair of Nano-Photonics and Metamaterials by passing exams or winning a portfolio contest. You don’t have to submit your application personally – all the documents for admission can be sent by mail.

Oleg Ermakov, a recent graduate of the program: “When I was about to complete my course at the Vasyl Karazin Kharkov National University, I was already looking for opportunities to continue my education, including going abroad. That was when Sergei Ivanovich Tarapov – a collaborator of the Chair of Nano-Photonics and Metamaterials (then it was still the Metamaterials Laboratory) – came to one of our lectures. He told us of the metamaterials physics, this new direction in science, and of the Metamaterials program at the ITMO University. After that me and my groupmate Anton Ovcharenko sent in the documents for admission”.

Alexander Kovrov, their fellow student, adds that entering the program proved easier than mastering the curriculum.

Aside from the theoretical course, the program includes courses on modeling, planning of experiments, and writing research articles. The individual research work takes up to half of the total study time.

Anton Ovcharenko, a recent graduate of the program: “We never did any laboratory-based work during the course, - only lectures, study groups and modeling classes. Now laboratory-based work is going to be added to the program – which, I believe, is going to prove very useful”.

The Chair’s approach to the educational process, as well as the research work itself is exemplary. The students have about a week to choose their scientific advisor – a week during which they can consult any member of the Chair about their fields of studies and the possible subjects for their thesis. This way the students get a better understanding of the direction of the Chairs research and can pick appropriate subjects for their future work.

Mikhail Petrov, the Chair’s professor of Quantum Optics: “I believe that the non-academic approach to the educational process is the most important. The students don’t just attend lectures – they become directly involved with the life and work of the Chair. The students and the academic staff work as a team – the staff members just being their senior, more experienced colleagues”.

The graduates of the Metamaterials program are expected to continue their work at the Research Center for Nanophotonics and Metamaterials, so every professor is ready to spare his time to help any of his students, - adds Oleg Efremov.

The Chair of Nano-Photonics and Metamaterials regularly organizes scientific conferences, seminars and summer schools, open to researchers from all over the world. The recent Laser and Photonics Congress united several events of interest for both students and accomplished scientists. Participation in such events is an essential part of the educational process at ITMO University, as it allows the students to stay up to date on all the recent scientific inventions and discoveries.

Anton Ovcharenko, a recent graduate of the program: “The Laboratory also provides the students with one stipendiary trip to a foreign conference – provided the student has original research results. Any conference can be of interest to an up-and-coming scientist – as it gives a chance to immerse oneself into the life of the scientific community. Surely, the most useful events were organized by the Metamaterials Laboratory. For example, professors and research associates from different world-class universities visited during the summer school organized by the Chair and talked about their research”.

The students also partake in different academic exchange programs. For instance, Anton and Oleg spent a semester in Switzerland, at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

Working on research articles for publication in different academic journals, including those indexed by Scopus and Web of Science, is also an important part of the Metamaterials program. Preparation of such papers is quite difficult for the students, being their first serious experience at making scientific publications; naturally, their scientific advisors and the academic staff of the laboratory provide truly indispensable support at this point. They help the students with the necessary software, give advice on the available information sources and help them to draw conclusions from their research data, - adds Anton. His graduation thesis was used as a basis for two papers on surface plasmons.

Oleg Ermakov, a recent graduate of the program: “Such surface waves offer unprecedented control over light propagation, reflection and refraction, as well as several other advantages, hence the proposed type of metasurfaces can be used as a basis for optical and opto-electronical devices, as well as components for optical and quantum computers. By the way, the co-author of my first article is Yuri Kivshar, one of the most distinguished scientists of our time, Professor Emeritus of ITMO University. Now our colleagues at the University study these predicted waves in cooperation with the Technical University of Denmark”.

The students also attend a course on Business Ethics. They learn how to apply for grants, write business letters, make presentations and posters, write to editors, etc. The final task of the course is to prepare a presentation of their research results and make a speech in front of the staff of the Chair.

Irina Melchakova, the professor of the course: “The point of this course is to give the students the necessary experience for their future scientific career – interaction with other scientists being an essential part of it. Most of the students of our Chair are involved in the work of our Laboratory, as they do their research in the context of our laboratory’s work”.

Even if the student never considered a scientific career, his views may change dramatically after the start of the course. Still, there are other career choices for a graduate: to find a job in one of the companies cooperating with the Chair (such as Bosch, Samsung, Nokia), or make his own startup. Nevertheless, the unique trait of the Chair is its emphasis on teaching future scientists.

Alexander Kovrov, a recent graduate of the program: “The purpose of the course is not to have some abstract “graduates”, who can then choose to stay in this field or pick something else, but to teach scientists, the future staff members for the Chair. The program itself can be described as mostly the process of gradual inclusion of the students into the research process”.