When Switzerland became SMART

He was planning on travelling to Switzerland for a three-month internship when COVID-19 hit. Applied physics student Joep Nieuwdorp swiftly changed his plans. As a result, he found his destiny at SMART Photonics. A story on how the pandemic influenced the student’s life choices in a positive way.

‘As part of the Master’s program I had to conduct a three-month internship,’ Nieuwdorp starts his story. Exactly as TU/e Graduate School policy stimulates, he was planning on spending a semester abroad. Basel, that was where he would be heading during spring 2020. When as a result of travel restrictions a stay abroad turned out to be impossible, Nieuwdorp immediately acted. ‘I decided to start working on my final Master's project within the group Advanced Nanomaterials & Devices instead, and to postpone my internship for a year.’

But alas, in spring 2021 COVID-19 still ruled the world. So again, Nieuwdorp proved to be flexible and looked for a different type of internship instead. ‘As part of the Master's program, I had taken the Master's course Nanophotonics by Alberto Curto and Andrea Fiore. Though extremely challenging, I found the topic to be very compelling. Later on, Andrea took the initiative to email a group of interested students a list of possible contacts for internships in the field of photonics. That is how I established first contact with SMART Photonics.’

Measuring quality

During his three-month stay at the company, Nieuwdorp developed a method to use infrared light to assess the quality of recently fabricated photonic integrated chips. ‘Originally, the setup I used was meant to measure current-voltage characteristics. Over time someone had added an infrared camera on top of it, which captures the wafer’s radiation from above. The question was whether it would be possible to use this camera to assess the quality of the wafer.’ Nieuwdorp played around with the setup, wrote some code, and proved that it could indeed be used for an easy and fast assessment of threshold current variations between individual chips at different locations on the wafer.

This experience shaped his vision of his future career. ‘I found out that I really like working in a small-scale company where everybody knows your name and you can make a real difference as an individual.’ In fact, both from his end and that of the company the match felt so right that after his graduation the fresh engineer joined the company as a Test and Measurement engineer. ‘Photonics has been a rapidly growing field over the past twenty years. I feel fortunate to be able to help make this technology a success.’