KNI Spotlight: Seyedeh Mahsa Kamali's High-Performance Research

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Faraon research group member challenges the boundaries of flat optics.

Mahsa Kamali

February 15, 2019

Seyedeh Mahsa Kamali is a fifth-year graduate student in the Electrical Engineering department of Caltech’s Engineering and Applied Sciences Division. She is a member of professor Andrei Faraon’s research group where she has investigated and developed the feasibility of flat optics – specifically dielectric metasurfaces – as a likely successor to today’s common optical components (e.g. lenses, mirrors, polarizers).


Mahsa graduated from the University of Tehran in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. Although she knew she wanted to travel abroad for her graduate studies, she took a six-month detour through the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) before accepting the fact that southern California offered better weather and a learning environment that was more in sync with her own personality.


Undeterred by the transfer process, Mahsa joined the Faraon lab at Caltech and confirmed shortly thereafter that she had made the right decision. She recalls one particular late night in the KNI cleanroom where she was surprised to find three of her very own group mates working as well. They carried on with their research well past midnight which, to them, felt as normal as if it were midday. This experience brought her comfort in knowing that her peers had a similar drive and mindset as she.


Over the past four years the KNI cleanroom facilities have played a critical role in helping Mahsa uncover important discoveries in her research projects. Through the use of metasurfaces, she has developed more efficient, high-performance optical elements and systems with enhanced functionalities. Her research has spanned the fundamental aspects of electromagnetics and optics to practical and technological challenges in material systems and fabrication methods.


Notably, Mahsa uncovered the obsolescence of a long-held assumption that the optical function of an object is correlated with its geometric form by using conformal metasurfaces [1]. Moreover, she demonstrated that thin metasurfaces, when properly engineered, can defy the well-known angular memory effect [2]. These examples have significant practical implications for the integration of optical elements in non-conventional spaces and encoding optical functionalities in increasingly compact spaces. Both of these projects have involved pushing the limits of nanofabrication techniques in various directions, a goal that would have been impossible to achieve without the extraordinary facilities and capabilities provided by KNI and its staff.


Recently she has embarked on a new metasurface project – a collaboration between the Faraon and Greer research groups – that aims to fabricate large-scale 3D nanolattices with sub-micron resolution. While the Greer group has already demonstrated 3D nanolattices at the nanoscale, these larger nanolattices will be generated from sophisticated lithography patterns created by metasurfaces to have unique mechanical properties. Metasurfaces provide an exceptional capability to control light in ways that traditional lithography cannot do on its own, such as using light to make the diamond lattice. Therefore, these new nanolattices can be designed to have specialized characteristics like high resistance to impact or tearing, or being lightweight and can be used for a wide variety of applications, from tiny medical implants to ultra-lightweight impact-resistant fabrics or textiles to ultra-lightweight aircraft components.


As for life after grad school, Mahsa’s future is wide open. She plans to graduate this academic year and is surveying what her next career move will be. Whether it’s in industry or academia, Mahsa knows that she wants to do something that enables her to enhance people’s lives. “In academia you are training a new generation of scientists; help them do research and grow up and be leaders”, she explains -- much like what her own advisor has done. “Andrei is a very good advisor. He doesn’t micromanage, and yet he really pays attention to individuals”. Undoubtedly whichever path Mahsa chooses, the world will be better for it.



[1] S. M. Kamali, A. Arbabi, E. Arbabi, Y. Horie, and A. Faraon, "Decoupling optical function and geometrical form using conformal flexible dielectric metasurfaces," Nat. Commun., vol. 7, 2016.


[2] S. M. Kamali, E. Arbabi, A. Arbabi, Y. Horie, M. Faraji-Dana, and A. Faraon, "Angle-multiplexed metasurfaces: encoding independent wavefronts in a single metasurface under different illumination angles," Phys. Rev. X, vol. 7, 041056, 2017.