“The things we are researching today will be standard in about ten to fifteen years’ time”

Giampiero Gerini is Senior Scientist in the Optics department. As far as he is concerned, research can never be too ground-breaking.

“I find less conventional optics particularly fascinating. For instance, I am very excited about the potential of metasurfaces. These are thin layers of material with sub-wavelength “nanoscale scattering elements” which can make very abrupt changes to the properties of light. This enables us to manipulate light in every possible way, and also in much thinner membranes than those used in conventional optics. This technology has enabled us to develop optical systems that are highly versatile, yet take up very little space.”

The secret of metasurfaces

“You can use metasurfaces, for example, to develop innovative tools for testing soil, to see whether it is suitable for farming purposes. You can use them to monitor environmental pollution. You can also use this technology for defence and security purposes, to detect home-made explosives, for example. We have also developed a metasurface that is capable of totally absorbing any light that hits it. This is being put to various uses such as building instruments that are ultra-sensitive to light, or testing the performance of spectroscopic instruments.”

Expert in space technology

“All these concepts are channelled into the development of space-based instruments. TNO’s unequalled expertise in this field has earned it a worldwide reputation. We have developed some highly advanced instruments, such as the imaging spectrometer, which is frequently used by scientists seeking fundamental insights into the state of our atmosphere and into climate change.”

Optical measuring systems for the semiconductor industry

“Then there is the semiconductor technology, where we put these optical principles to good use. Not so long ago, I started researching the potential of X-rays in metrology. X-rays are electromagnetic radiation that has a much shorter wavelength than visible light, allowing you to detect and recognize even smaller particles. The semiconductor industry cannot wait to get its hands on the optical measuring systems we are currently developing. At the same time, we are researching the potential of artificially developed materials that may well be the standard in ten to fifteen years’ time.”

Eternally curious

“In addition to my position at TNO, I hold a professorial post at Eindhoven University of Technology. There too, together with my students, I am searching for new ways to manipulate light. There, we are mainly driven by curiosity and less so by social demands for specific technological solutions – pretty much the opposite of the set-up at TNO. Yet, as a Senior Scientist at TNO, I still have plenty of scope to do ‘blue sky’ research. That is absolutely vital, otherwise you’ll never discover anything new. Thanks to the potential of metasurfaces, future generations of instruments will see the light of day, instruments with capabilities of which we – as yet – know nothing.”


Monitoring gas concentrations in the atmosphere, development of the quantum computer, manufacturing of mobile phone chips, non-invasive glucose measurement for diabetics: in all these applications and... Read more

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