Niek F. van Hulst

Institut de Ciències Fotòniques

Engineering Sciences

Following study in Astronomy and Physics, I obtained my PhD (1986) in Molecular & Laser-Physics at the University of Nijmegen (the Netherlands), on microwave-laser double resonance molecular-beam spectroscopy. After research in non-linear optics of organic materials, integrated optics, atomic force and near-field optical microscopy, since 1997 full Professor in Applied Optics at MESA+ Institute for NanoTechnology, University of Twente (the Netherlands) with focus on single molecule detection and scanning probe technology. In 2005, attracted by the Catalan quality-based science policy, I started as ICREA Research Professor and senior group leader at ICFO - the Institute of Photonic Sciences, within The Barcelona Institute of Science & Technology; also I am Head Academic Programs at ICFO. Recipient of 2003 Körber European Science Award, 2010 City of Barcelona Prize; ERC Advanced Grants in 2010 and 2015, PoC in 2017; 2017 European Physical Society Prize.

Research interests

My current interest is to control light interaction at the nanometer scale. To this end, my group specializes on optical antennas, with nanoscale hot spots, and on coherent control schemes to command light on the “femto-nano” scale. We study individual molecules, quantum dots and single proteins, in strong interaction with nanoantenna-cavities and sub-10-fs pulses; controlling excitation-emission rates, direction, spectra, polarization, single photon character. We focus particularly on long-lived coherences in single light-harvesting antenna complexes at native conditions, to unravel the remarkably high efficiency of energy conversion in such natural molecular antennas. At ICFO I aim to stimulate young researchers, towards well-rooted skilled scientists and assertive critical thinkers, ready to shape their future and sustain the world. To recharge, I like to touch ground in the Massis del Garraf or to stroll around the coast, inspired by the ancient Mediterranean waters.

Selected publications

– Liebel M, Toninelli  C & van Hulst NF  2017, ‘Room-temperature ultrafast nonlinear spectroscopy of a single molecule‘, Nature Photonics, 12, 45–49.

– Liebel M, Hugall JT & van Hulst NF 2017, ‘Ultrasensitive label-free nanosensing and high-speed tracking of single proteins‘, NanoLetters, 17 (2), 1277–1281.

– Accanto N, de Roque PM, Galvan-Sosa M, Christodoulou S, Moreels I & van Hulst NF 2017, ‘Rapid and robust control of single quantum dots‘, Light: Science & Applications, 6, e16239.

– Flauraud V, Regmi R, Winkler PM, Alexander DTL, Rigneault H, van Hulst NF, Garcia-Parajo MF, Wenger J & Brugger J 2017, ‘In-plane plasmonic antenna arrays with surface nanogaps for giant fluorescence enhancement‘, NanoLetters, 17 (3), 1703–1710.

– Pastorelli F, Accanto N, Jørgensen M, van Hulst NF & Krebs FC 2017, ‘In situ electrical and thermal monitoring of printed electronics by two-photon mapping‘, Sci. Reports, 7, 3787.

Selected research activities

2017 European Physical Society Prize, for Fundamental Aspects of Quantum Electronics and Optics.
2017 ERC-Proof of Concept: IBIS a platform for label-free quantitative detection of single proteins and extracellular vesicles.

Selected invited talks:

– Joan van der Waals colloquium, Univ.Leiden, the Netherlands
– 20 years Nano-Optics, MPL, Erlangen, Germany
– 23rd Int. Workshop on Single Molecule Spectroscopy, Berlin, Germany
– NANOP2017, Barcelona
– ICES2017, München, Germany
– GRC Quantum Control of Light & Matter, South Hadley, MA, USA
– Plasmonica2017, Lecce, Italy
– CLEO/Europe, München, Germany
– EPSRC Doctoral Training in Metamaterials, Exeter, UK
– DINAMO2017, Siglufjörður, Iceland
– CQS2017 – Complex Quantum Systems dynamics, Cartagena, Spain
– EuroPhotonics Spring School, Sitges
– Quantum Nanophotonics, Benasque, Spain
– 1st EPS Biology for Physics Conference, Barcelona


– CLEO/Europe, EQEC/EG Light-matter Interactions at the Nano-scale