Building technology by building confidence

A professor working on futuristic technology, with a string of prestigious fellowships behind her, it’s surprising to discover Lan Fu didn’t feel she had the talent to be a scientist.

“I never thought I would end up as a physicist – even though my Dad is a physicist. I had no idea if I would be a good enough researcher or not!” Lan says.

Fortunately Lan found good mentors, who helped build her confidence throughout her career.

Lan realised she loved research while working on her masters in China, and she also wanted to go overseas to explore life abroad. She ended up at ANU in Canberra, under the supervision of Professor Chennupati Jagadish.

“I was lucky, I had great mentoring from Jagadish!” she says.

As well as learning from Jagadish’s renowned research skills, Lan learnt how to build a career, for example by preparing successful applications for grants and fellowships, such as her 2005 ARC QEII/ARF Fellowship and 2012 Future Fellowship.

She also learnt a lot by taking on responsibility as Program Convenor for higher-degree by researcher students for the past eight years at ANU Physics.

“Over eight years I observed a lot of good practice – and bad.”

As TMOS’s first Director of Education, Lan is putting her experience to work building a rounded educational program for TMOS students. She’s including not just research skills but transferable skills such as entrepreneurship and industry engagement, all underpinned by good mentoring.

“We want to make sure our PhD students are not just future leaders in academia, but leaders in industry, government and other areas,” she says

Lan’s experience has taught her that learning doesn’t just happen from professors. She’s passionate about getting students to interact and learn from their peers.

“A sense of collaboration will be important for anything they do in the future.”

And it’s not just for the students: “researchers need to talk too”, says Lan.

“Within TMOS we have a structure to force us to talk to each other regularly – even though we’re all busy and life goes on. I think that’s important.”

Her big science goal, as a Chief Investigator in the Detect Theme of TMOS, needs exactly that collaboration.

Her expertise is in developing nanowires that can efficiently detect light, and she hopes that by working with experts in meta-surfaces – surfaces covered with repetitive patterns of nanostructures – that they can supercharge the efficiency and functionality of light detectors.

 “We’re trying to build nano-surfaces that can broaden the wavelength range, selectivity, and detect different polarisations.”

“Photodetectors are a vital part of any light-based system – lidar, thermal imaging, night vision – so I hope our detectors will become important components in autonomous vehicles or night-vision goggles,” Lan says.

Story by Phil Dooley

About the author/s

Phil Dooley

Dr Phil Dooley – Phil Up On Science – is a science, writer, videomaker, entertainer and trainer. He’s written for Cosmos Magazine, New Scientist, the American Institute of Physics and more and has been selected for the Anthology of Best Australian Science Writing three times. He’s performed ... more

Lan Fu

Lan Fu is currently a Professor and Head of the Department of the Electronic Materials Engineering at the Research School of Physics, the Australian National University (ANU). Professor Lan Fu’s main research interests include design, fabrication and integration of optoelectronic devices (LEDs, l ... more

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