The Generalitat has started the search for a new director of the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) after the physicist Lluís Torner, who has led the center since its foundation in 2002, has communicated his intention to leave the position.
Under Torner's direction, the ICFO has become one of the flagships of research in Catalonia and one of the leading photonics institutes in Europe. The still director justifies his decision to leave the position because “the ICFO has achieved the objectives we had set for ourselves and needs a new boost for the next ten years; A replacement is advisable to avoid the risk of having a director who remains in office forever.”
The founding objective of ICFO was to become one of the best photonics centers in the world. To do this, Torner opted to recruit young researchers with potential “because we could not compete with large institutions like Harvard or MIT to attract established scientists”; and he prioritized frontier research regardless of whether it would have practical use or not.
As a result of this strategy, ICFO today has 25 research groups with 350 scientists; three buildings totaling 16,000 square meters in Castelldefels thanks to contributions from the Cellex and Mir-Puig foundations; and 11 spin-off companies arising from its frontier research.
Looking ahead to the next decade, Torner believes that “we are at the right time to take a leap forward and have technological development programs in Catalonia with a significant economic impact.”
A first example is the European quantum communications program, which is coordinated by the ICFO thanks to the pioneering research that the institute has promoted in this area. In the coming years, Torner anticipates that photonics will provide technological solutions to environmental challenges, such as the development of sustainable energies and the capture of CO2 from the atmosphere.
The Generalitat has published in the magazine Nature the international call for the position of director of the ICFO, which from now on will be for renewable periods of four years. A selection committee will evaluate the candidates, who must present their strategic vision for the development of the institute.
As is customary in the hiring of managers at elite scientific institutions, the names of the candidates will not be made public. The selected person is expected to join in the first half of 2024 after being formally appointed by the ICFO board, which includes the Generalitat, the Polytechnic University (UPC) and the Cellex and Mir-Puig foundations.
Since the beginning of the ICFO, Torner highlights, “the involvement of Ignacio Cirac, director of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching (Germany), has been fundamental. Cirac, a pioneer in quantum computing, is now president of the institute's Scientific Advisory Board.
Lluís Torner plans to continue at the ICFO as head of the Nonlinear Optical Phenomena research group, whose direction he has combined with the direction of the institute. In addition, “I will be available to the new director to help if he or she considers it appropriate for me to help him or her.”
Beyond the ICFO, Torner is recognized as a key figure in the development of research in Catalonia in the last 25 years. He was founder and first president of the Catalan Association of Research Entities (ACER), received the National Research Award, was recognized with the Leadership Award from the Optical Society of America, with the Tutoring Award from Nature magazine and even He was a crier at the Festes de la Mercè in Barcelona in 2012.
“I will help in whatever I can and in whatever is asked of me to help research in Catalonia,” declares Torner, who has had an important role in the so-called Quantum Valley of Catalonia, a project promoted by the Generalitat and coordinated by the ICFO. "What I won't do is enter politics, because it requires skills that I don't have."