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Department of Physics

The Cavendish Laboratory

Images and videos capturing multiple physics research themes - Energy Materials, Biological and Biomedical Physics, Physics of Soft Matter and NanoSystems, Astrophysics and Quantum Information and Control -  are among the prize-winning entries in the Department’s 2022 Photography Competition.

The winners of the Department’s first annual photography competition 2022 were judged anonymously on 3 criteria of scientific relevance, uniqueness and visual appeal. We are delighted to announce that the winners and their winning entries are as follows:

Head of Department Cash Prize

Awarded to Postdoctoral researcher Nicolas Gauriot for two entries.

True Colors


Germanium Selenide (GeSe) observed through a polarised light microscope. GeSe is birefringent material, when illuminated with a plane-polarized light, it produces two waves polarised along the ordinary and extraordinary axes of the material. These two waves acquire different phases as they propagate in the material and interfere on the microscope camera (after going through an analyser). Depending on the crystal orientation and the thickness of the flakes, different wavelengths of the light will interfere constructively or destructively, which makes colourful and pleasing images. This video was recorded while rotating the polarisation of the illuminating light. The whole field of view is 125 micrometres wide.

Atomically thin bird of paradise


This is a micrograph of a sample of Germanium Selenide (GeSe). This material is a layered Van der Waals semiconductor that can be mechanically exfoliated to form thin flakes, down to few nanometres thick. When exfoliating a crystal, it tends to break along its crystal axes, sometimes forming pleasing shapes. The colours observed here are the real colours and are due to thin film interference. This is why flakes of different thickness have different colours. The picture is about 50 micrometres wide.


First Prize

Awarded to Postdoctoral researcher Jack Hart.

Nanodiamond uptake in cancer cells


Nanodiamonds containing nitrogen-vacancy defects are next-generation quantum sensors that can provide fascinating insight into biological processes with unprecedented spatial resolution, probing length scales 500 times smaller than human hairs. The first step in achieving this is to determine the location of the nanodiamonds within a cell. In this image, the mitochondrial network of a cervical cancer cell has been stained with MitoTracker Green and imaged on a fluorescence confocal microscope. Concurrently, the red fluorescent signal from the nanodiamonds is also shown with a deep red look-up table. Nanodiamond uptake can be confirmed by identifying bright red spots amongst the mitochondrial network, indicating they are on the same focal plane. Strikingly, the cell exhibits a spiral shape not dissimilar to a galaxy, despite being 25 orders of magnitude smaller.


Second Prize

Two second prizes awarded to PhD candidates Aoife Gregg and Dominic Anstey.

Microscale actuators from carbon nanotube and hydrogel composites - Aoife Gregg                          

Jellyfish-like structures composed of carbon nanotube forests (black) and hydrogel (translucent) are viewed in a chamber of water.  An Infrared LED drives the structures to contract, and they slowly relax back to their original shape when the light is removed. The video has been sped up during the last stages of relaxation. The structures are roughly 1mm in size.

REACHing the First Stars - Dominic Anstey


The Radio Experiment for the Analysis of Cosmic Hydrogen (REACH) is attempting to detect the traces of the first stars from beneath powerful radio emissions from our galaxy. The picture is of the construction site. A wide valley in the Karoo desert in South Africa, 80km from the nearest town to avoid interference from FM radio. In this picture, a rainbow after a brief shower of rain can be seen over the newly built instrument.



Third Prize

Three third prize awarded to Postdoctoral researcher Eric S.A. Görlitzer, member of staff Steve Haws and PhD candidate RA (Ryan) Parker. 

Nanophotonic tools to watch behaviour of individual atoms, molecules, quantum dots and solid-state emitters - Eric S.A. Görlitzer

We use microscopic characterization in combination with plasmonic nanophotonic architectures that embed components under study between gold nanoparticles. Strong ‘plasmonic’ enhancements lead to extreme amplification of key signatures, enabling us to study the behaviour of molecules in catalysis, quantum dots for on-chip light sources, and many other examples across chemistry, physics, and biology. The image shows a uniform monolayer of CdSe quantum dots on a gold mirror, defocused with a low magnification lens to show macroscopic fluorescence.

Pulse Laser Deposition - Steve Haws

Our researchers in Li-Ion battery materials use advanced pulsed laser deposition (PLD) to achieve anodes, cathodes and solid electrolyte thin films as model battery materials for understanding how battery performs at the atomic to micron length scales.

In the Royce Ambient Cluster at the Maxwell centre we have a 28 Megawatt, UV-VIS 248 nm, nanosecond laser which is fired at well defined inorganic targets to release a "plume" of material which then deposits on our battery device. The video and image here shows this plume, the colour of which is characteristic of the material being deposited.

Lensed Fibre coupling to a diamond nanophotonic quantum waveguide chiplet - RA (Ryan) Parker

Contained in this nanophotonic quantum waveguide chiplet are individual tin atoms, which we address with an external laser field to generate photons for distribution throughout our fibre network. This is the basic building block of the quantum network we are building here at the Cavendish Laboratory.



The panel of judges for this year’s Photography Competition included Prof. Andy Parker, Head of Department; Prof. Mete Atature, Deputy Head of Department; Prof. Suchitra Sebastian; Dr. Paul Rimmer; Dr. Harry Cliff. 

Other Top Entries 

Other top entries were of  PhD candidates Dávid Puskás (Astrophysics) and Toby Mitchell(Quantum Optics). 

Whirlpool Galaxy – M51, A universe of galaxies

This photograph was part of the visual story ‘A universe of galaxies’ and is the most illustrative example of merging galaxies - the Messier 51. Situated just South of the handle of the Big Dipper, it is one of the amateur astronomers’ favourites. We can observe the collision between the spiralling Whirlpool galaxy and a smaller companion.  The gravitational interaction between the two merging galaxies creates diffuse plumes of interstellar gas and dust through tidal forces. The violent process of merging compresses interstellar gas and dust inside the galaxies, hence igniting and enhancing star formation.

Nanoscale sensing in diamond using atomic force microscopy

Diamond based platform for nanoscale nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging can be achieved through optical excitation and microwave stimulation to manipulate the spin state of single atomic defects in the diamond lattice. These defects are illuminated with green light in a home built confocal microscope. Two identical atomic force microscope tips coated in a magnetic material are brought close to the diamond surface to quench the photoluminescence of these single defect sites.

The panel of judges for this year’s Photography Competition included Prof. Andy Parker, Head of Department; Prof. Mete Atature, Deputy Head of Department; Prof. Suchitra Sebastian; Dr. Paul Rimmer; Dr. Harry Cliff.