Imperial College London

Professor Ortwin Hess

Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Physics

Leverhulme Chair in Metamaterials



+44 (0)20 7594 7586o.hess Website




806Blackett LaboratorySouth Kensington Campus





Professor Ortwin Hess holds the Chair Professorship of Quantum Nanophotonics and an SFI Research Professorship at Trinity College Dublin and the Leverhulme Chair in Metamaterials in the Blackett Laboratory/Department of Physics of Imperial College London. 

Bridging condensed matter physics and quantum optics, Professor Hess's research interests and his group's activities are in Quantum Nanophotonics, Active Metamaterials and Laser Physics and are currently focused on active (photonic, electronic and magnetic) metamaterials, quantum nano-photonics and spatio-temporal dynamics of (plasmonic and semiconductor) nanolasers.

The Hess Group in October 2016

The Hess Group at Imperial College London

Architecting Light and Nanophotonics Quantum Systems ... via Active Topological Metamaterials and Lasers

The Future of Light Art | Active Nanophotonics and Metamaterials with Quantum Gain on the Nanoscale | A public presentation in a museum: ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany in February 2018. 

The Royal Society Rumford Medal 2016

The Rumford Medal 2016 has been awarded to Professor Ortwin Hess for his pioneering work in active nano-plasmonics and optical metamaterials with quantum gain at the Royal Society's Anniversary Day in November 2016.  

Ortwin Hess

Professor Ortwin Hess at Imperial College

The Rumford Medal is awarded for important discoveries in the field of thermal or optical properties of matter and their applications.

Notable recipients include: Michael Faraday, Louis Pasteur, James Clerk Maxwell, Gustav Robert Kirchhoff, Hendrik Anton Lorentz, Lord Rayleigh, William Henry Bragg, Friedrich Paschen and Peter Debye. 

The award was established following a donation by Benjamin Thompson FRS (PDF), Count Rumford of the Holy Roman Empire, an American-born former soldier, spy, statesman and scientist who would go on to found the Royal Institution. The first award was made in 1800. 

NEWS and Highlights


Quantum Plasmonic Immunoassay Sensing, Nano Lett 19 (9), 5853-5861 (2019) by Kongsuwan, Xiong, Bai, You, Png, Wu and Hess

quantum plasmonic immunoassay sensing

Quantum plasmonic immunoassay sensing

Suppressing spatiotemporal lasing instabilities with wave- chaotic microcavities, Science 10.1126/science.aas9437 (2018)  by Bittner, Guazzotti, Zeng, Hu, Yılmaz, Kim, Oh, Wang, Hess and Cao. 

quantum chaos in a D-cavity semiconductor laser

quantum-chaotic semiconductor laser [S Bittner, Yale]

Near-field strong coupling of single quantum dotsScience Advances 4, eaar4906 (2018) by Gross, Hamm, Tufarelli, Hess and Hecht. 

quantum dot near-field strong coupling

near-field strong coupling of a quantum dot

Ultraslow waves on the nanoscale, Science 358, eaan5196 (2017) by Tsakmakidis, Hess, Boyd and Zhang. 

trapped rainbow

Nanophotonic 'trapped rainbow'

Electrical access to critical coupling of circularly polarised waves in graphene chiral metamaterials, Science Advances 3, e1701377 (2017) by Kim, Oh, Kim, Park, Hess, Min and Zhang. 


Gate-controlled active conjugated double-Z metamaterials

Reading the Orbital Angular Momentum of Light Using Plasmonic Nanoantennas, ACS Photonics 4, 891 (2017) by Kerber, Fitzgerald, Reiter, Oh and Hess. 

twisted light

Reading 'twisted light' with a plasmonic nanoantenna

Tracking Optical Welding through Groove Modes in Plasmonic Nanocavities Nano Lett 16, 5605 (2016) by Mertens, Demetriadou, Bowman, Benz, Kleemann, Tserkezis, Shi, Yang, Hess, Aizpurua and Baumberg. 

Single-molecule strong coupling at room temperature in plasmonic nanocavities,  Nature 535, 127 (2016) by Chikkaraddy, de Nijs, Benz, Barrow, Sherman, Rosta, Demetriadou, Fox, Hess and Baumberg. 


Ultrafast plasmonic nanowire lasers near the surface plasmon frequency, Nature Physics 10, 870 (2014) by Sidropoulos, Rider, Geburt, Hess, Maier, Running and Oulton. 

Cavity-free plasmonic nanolasing enabled by dispersonless stopped light, Nature Communications 5, 4972 (2014) by Pickering, Hamm, Page, Wuestner and Hess. 

Metamaterials with Quantum Gain Science 339, 654 (2013) by Hess &Tsakmakidis

Active Nanoplasmonic Metamaterials Nature Materials 11, 573 - 584 (2012) by Hess et al.  

'Trapped rainbow' storage of light in metamaterials Nature 450, 397 (2007) by Tsakmakidis, Boardman and Hess. 

trapped rainbow

Trapped rainbow in a metamaterial heterostructure


Recent Plenary and Key-Note Talks at Conferences

Active Quantum Nanoplasmonics: From Single Molecule Strong Coupling to Stopped-Light QED and Lasing, Meta 2017, Incheon, Korea (10 August 2016). 

META 2017 Plenary Speakers

META 2017 Plenary Speakers

Transformation Optics and Simulation of Strong Coupling in Plasmonic Nanocavities, PIERS, Shanghai, China (10 August 2016). 

Ultrafast and Quantum Dynamics of Plasmonic Nanolasers, PIERS, Shanghai, China (8 August, 2016). 

Plasmonic Nano Lasing: From Single-Molecule Strong Coupling to Stopped-Light Nanolasing, EMN, Singapore (11 May 2016). 

Plasmonic Stopped-Light Lasing: A Route to Cavity-Free Nanolasing, Internatioanl conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICONN 2016), Canberra, Australia (7 February 2016). 



Active Optical Metamaterials by Wuestner and Hess in: Progress in Optics (E Wolf, Ed.) Vol. 59 (Elsevier, 2014). 

Photonics of Quantum-Dot Nanomaterials and Devices: Theory and Modelling by Hess and Gehrig (Imperial College Press, London, 2012). 

Spatio-Temporal Dynamics and Quantum Fluctuations in Semiconductor Lasers by Gehrig and Hess (Springer, Berlin, 2003). 


Controlled Single Molecule Strong Coupling and Stopped-Light Lasing in Nanoplasmonic Cavities given at Harvard University (8 March 2017) in the Joint Quantum Sciences Seminar discusses recent progress in the study of quantum emitters and quantum gain in nanoplasmonic systems and deliberates on approaches combining classical and quantum many-body theory and simulation to describe and model the spatio-temporal dynamics of the optical near field and plasmon polaritons coupled with quantum emitters in nano- plasmonic cavities. 

The Stopped-Light Laser: An Optical 'Black Hole' on the Nanoscale given at the Cambridge University Physics Society (19 Nov 2014) discusses a new lasing principle realised by stopped light at nanoplasmonic singularities. 

 Active Nanoplasmonic Metamaterials provides a brief overview of recent research on metamaterials and nanoplasmonics with quantum gain.


Quantum NanoPhotonics and Metamaterials

Promoting an extreme control of light and matter interaction quantum nano-photonics empowers novel femto- and attosecond and nano-photonic phenomena, forming the basis for quantum photonics and innovative nano-photonic lasers. 

And the  "metamaterial" concept to control photons and electrons by the principle "function from structure" has inspired scientists to conceive perfect lenses, new lasers, 'invisibility' and acoustic cloaks and opened the door to slow and stopped broadband light with applications in quantum science and technology, sensing and nano-chemistry. 

The Quantum Nano-Photonics group studies the physics of nanophotonics and optical and electronic metamaterials and advanced lasers, and investigates the (ultrafast) nonlinear and quantum dynamics of nano-plasmonic and nano-photonic materials and  (complex) nano-photonic systems with gain. Concurrently, the group is striving to embed metamaterials in new realms of applications in information and laser technology, nanophotovoltaics and the bio-medical sciences.

Light in Photonic and Electronic Metamaterials

- Nanoplasmonic metasurfaces 
- Chiral metamaterials, metafoils and chiral light
- Self-organised active 3D gyroidal metamaterials
- Semiconductor metamaterials
- "Dirac light" in active nanoplasmonic metasurfaces


- Slow and stopped light
- Quantum fluctuations and spontaneous emission control 
- Nanoplasmonic strong coupling
- Femto- and attosecond nanophotonics

Nano Optics

- Functional nano-plasmonic nano-cavities
- Ultra-low energy optical switching
- Nanoparticle photo-chemistry
- Nanophotovoltaics

NanoLaser Dynamics

- Plasmonic stopped-light nanolasing
- Nonlinear metamaterials with quantum gain
- Quantum-dot lasers
- Ultrafast plasmonic semiconductor nanolasers


Short Biography

Professor Ortwin Hess holds the Chair Professorship in Quantum Nanophotonics at Trinity College Dublin and the Leverhulme Chair in Metamaterials in the Blackett Laboratory/Department of Physics of Imperial College London. 

Professor Hess studied physics at the University of Erlangen and the Technical University of Berlin. Following pre- and post-doctoral times in Edinburgh and at the University of Marburg, Hess has been (from 1995 to 2003) Head of the Theoretical Quantum Electronics Group at the Institute of Technical Physics in Stuttgart, Germany. He has a Habilitation in Theoretical Physics at the University of Stuttgart (1997) and became Adjunct Professor in 1998. Since 2001 he is Docent of Photonics at Tampere University of Technology in Finland. Professor Hess has been Visiting Professor at Stanford University (1997 - 1998) and the University of Munich (2000 - 2001). From 2003 to 2010 he was Professor of Theoretical Condensed Matter and Optical Physics in the Department of Physics and the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK. 

Research Interests

Professor Hess's research interests and activities are in condensed matter quantum optics and are currently focused on quantum photonics, optical and electronic metamaterials, spatio-temporal laser dynamics and computational photonics.

Bridging theoretical condensed-matter physics, quantum optics and laser physics, Professor Hess has pioneered the research fields and concepts of active nano-plasmonics and optical metamaterials with quantum gain and made seminal contributions to spatio-temporal dynamics of semiconductor lasers.

Hess has discovered the ‘trapped-rainbow’ principle and recently introduced and explained the idea of cavity-free ‘stopped-light lasing’.

He has further contributed significantly to quantum dot photonics [book (Imperial College Press, 2012)] and computational modeling of photonic crystals as well as to the quantum theory of temperature on the nano-scale [several book chapters].

Hess combines theoretical solid state (quantum) optics with computational photonics, involving the development of innovative approaches and techniques leading to the realization of a unique and flexible family of codes for active nano-plasmonics and (inherently multi-scale) metamaterials as well as nonlinearities and the microscopic spatio-temporal interplay of intense light with nano-structured materials (semiconductors, polymers, etc) on ultrafast time-sclaes.

He strives to explore the dynamics and light-matter interaction in active (nonlinear, gain-enhanced and dynamic) nanophotonic metamaterials, the physics of self-organised (polymer based) nanoplasmonic chiral metamaterials, semiconductor quantum nanomaterials, quantum dots and graphene with gain as well as the dynamics and quantum fluctuations of slow and stopped light and ultrafast (nano-) lasers. Further plans are the study of the ultrafast spatio-temporal dynamics in nano-plasmonics and the control of spontaneous and amplified spontaneous emission.