Federico Capasso

2016 Balzan Prize for Applied Photonics

For his pioneering work in the quantum design of new materials with specific electronic and optical features, which led to the realization of a fundamentally new class of laser, the Quantum Cascade Laser; for his major contributions in plasmonics and metamaterials, at the forefront of photonics science and technology.

Federico Capasso is an Italian born (Rome, 1949) and US naturalized (1992) citizen. After obtaining a doctorate in physics at the University of Rome, he joined the Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, USA, in 1976, and he had a brilliant career as scientist and research leader there. He has been Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard University since 2003.

Thanks to his key insights in the engineering of the quantum properties of materials and to his brilliant team, a radically new type of laser, the Quantum Cascade (QC) Laser, became a reality. In a QC, the laser wavelengths in the mid- and far-infrared can be chosen across a large range by varying the thicknesses of the laser’s active layers of the same materials at the nanometer level. Nowadays these lasers are found in countless molecular spectroscopy laboratories and are a basic tool for pollution monitoring, atmospheric chemistry, medical diagnosis, industrial process control, and the detection of explosives.

Federico Capasso and his group have steadily improved the designs and performances of QC lasers over the years, opening new application fields. Furthermore, he is among the most successful scientists in the study and application of plasmonics and metamaterials, i.e., the interaction of photons with metallic nano-structures through the creation of surface plasmons (electron oscillations resulting from photonic excitations). Recent developments include the demonstration of generalized laws of reflection and refraction and the engineering of so-called flat-optics, i.e., the design of optical elements produced on a completely flat surface through nano-design.

Federico Capasso is one of the world’s top scientists active at the interface between basic and applied research. He has the facility to tackle new problems and develop them from new science to exciting new technology and applications.

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