Diamonds, they say, are forever. One of nature’s most precious stones, they hold potential far beyond their ornamental value. As nanodiamonds (microparticles), they have found use in medicine, electronic applications and even defence through quantum photonics, where their ability to fluoresce can be used to sense magnetic fields.
It was his interest in the photonic potential of nanodiamonds that led Professor Brant Gibson, Discipline Leader in Physics at RMIT University’s School of Science, into the realm of defence-related research, where the Defence Science Institute (DSI) played a key role in bolstering his study.
Taking a shine to the subject of photonics early on in his career, he gained a PhD from La Trobe University in 2004 where he explored the design and characterisation of new types of optical fibres for use as biological sensing and detection systems. His interest in harnessing light for sensing applications drew him to his primary field of interest of hybrid photonic materials and devices, eventually leading to a string of collaborations with DSI and Defence.
In 2011, Brant received his first DSI-funded impetus through support offered towards an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship in ‘Hybrid Diamond Materials for Next Generation Sensing, Biodiagnostic and Quantum Devices’. He was given the chance to present his research at various defence-related workshops and events, which provided the opportunity to align his research program with the defence sector.
Following the success of the Fellowship, Brant and his colleagues from RMIT and the University of Adelaide were awarded Cooperative Evaluation Research Agreement (CERA) funding through DSI. They partnered with Defence Science and Technology (DST) scientists to work in the area of hybrid diamond materials for magnetic field sensing applications.
“Conventional optical fibres are insensitive to magnetic fields. However, by embedding diamond microparticles within the glass fibres, these special fibre optic cables become intrinsically sensitive to magnetic fields. These diamond-doped fibre optic cables have a range of defence-related applications,” explains Brant. The technology, which relies on a change in fluorescence signal from the nanodiamond-glass optical fibre to detect external magnetic fields, holds significant marine defence potential in sea-bed surveillance and threat mitigation.
With the success of the CERA project, Brant went on to receive further funding from DST’s Next Generation Technologies Fund. A collaborative project, it added researchers from the University of Melbourne and the University of South Australia to the previous CERA team building the potential to lead to further joint opportunities with the Victorian defence sector.
Since receiving DSI support, Brant’s research program has broadened significantly to include defence-related efforts, and in his current roles as Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics and the Sir Lawrence Wackett Centre at RMIT, he is contributing to building a quantum sensing technology capability within Victoria and Australia.
Professor Brant Gibson’s story of research progression is one of many at DSI and demonstrates how research outcomes are transferable and of value across multiple sectors, including defence. DSI aims to establish connections between industry and academia and encourages researchers who may not have had any experience with the defence sector to make contact to leverage the many grants and support options available to advance their research.