A fascination with light and its possibilities drives Professor Zhipei Sun’s research

Aalto University's Professor Zhipei Sun is on the Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list for the third time – congratulations!
Professor Zhipei Sun, photo: Niina Norjamäki/Aalto University
Professor Zhipei Sun and his group develop new applications for photonics and quantum technologies in the laboratory at Otaniemi. Photo: Niina Norjamäki/Aalto University

Professor Zhipei Sun leads the Photonics research group in the Department of Electronics and Nanoengineering at Aalto University, which studies the electrical and optical properties of various nanomaterials for photonic and optoelectronic applications. He has been included in the 2021 Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list, which identifies researchers with highly cited research papers in the Web of Science database.

What are you researching and why?

I am very excited about light – which is everywhere – and photonics research. During the pandemic, online communication and meetings have become more important than ever. Everything behind these technologies is possible because of light. The truth is that almost all the data on the internet is communicated by light. My group is searching for ways to generate and detect light more efficiently and modulate it faster, so that we can enable future applications that will benefit humankind.

What is your research field in this Highly Cited Researchers list?

I was listed as a 'Physics' researcher and a 'cross-field' researcher.

What are the next steps in your research field, and how they will support or develop your research field?

Connecting ever-increasing amounts of data is a major challenge. The data centres behind the internet have thousands of devices connecting to each other, and those connections consumer a lot of energy. That is a big problem to solve. My research aims to use light to connect systems more efficiently and faster. I truly believe that light technologies offer a promising way to solve many energy and sustainability issues – the grand challenges of our society.

Multidisciplinary approaches and collaboration are key in supporting my research. I have a great team. All the team members work on different photonics devices, but they also represent different backgrounds. For example, some of them have a background in quantum physics, while others come from chemistry and material science backgrounds, which helps develop high-quality materials for photonics. Great examples of mixing research fields and collaboration are our Photonics flagship and our Quantum Centre of Excellence.

Where do you get the inspiration for your research from?

Inspiration comes naturally to me, as photonics motivates me a lot. I am generally keen to try something crazy or different, and I really enjoy it when I get some ideas working.

What tips would you give to future researchers?

My personal experience is to choose the field that motivates you. Boldness and persistence are valuable. I also benefit from the saying “Think big; start small.” And, of course, try to talk with different people and collaborate with them.

What do you think about Finland – what do you like about the country?

Finland is a great country. The eight years in Finland have been a great time for my family and me. I enjoy working here. I like forests in Finland. Walking in nature is the best way to clarify your thoughts for science. After a walk in cold weather, a sauna is a nice refreshing way to be with the family.

Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers 2021 listing

Researchers in the list have had multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top one per cent of the number of citations in their field in the Web of Science citation database during the last ten years. The list includes approximately 6,600 researchers around the world, roughly 20 of whom are in Finland. Read more: Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers 2021 listing

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