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 announced his desire 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 institutes in photonics in Europe. The still director justifies his decision to leave the position because "the ICFO has achieved the goals we had set for ourselves and needs a new impetus for the next ten years; a relay is appropriate to avoid the risk of having a director who stays in office forever".
The ICFO's founding goal was to become one of the best photonics centers in the world. For this reason, Torner opted to sign young researchers with potential "because we could not compete with the big institutions like Harvard or MIT to attract established scientists"; and prioritized frontier research regardless of whether it would have practical utility or not.
As a result of this strategy, the 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 their 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 program for quantum communications, which is coordinated from 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 Nature magazine the international call for the post of director of the ICFO, which from now on will be for periods of four years that can be extended. A selection committee will evaluate the candidates, who must present their strategic vision for the development of the institute.
As is usual in the signing of managers in elite scientific institutions, the names of the candidates will not be made public. It is expected that the selected person will join in the first semester of 2024 after being formally appointed by the ICFO board of trustees, which includes the Generalitat, the Polytechnic University (UPC) and the Cellex and Mir-Puig foundations.
From the beginning of the ICFO, Torner emphasizes, "the involvement of Ignacio Cirac", director of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching (Germany), has been fundamental. Cirac, 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 management has combined with the management of the institute. In addition, "I will be available to the new director to help him, if he considers it appropriate that I help him".
Beyond the ICFO, Torner is recognized as a key figure in the development of research in Catalonia over the last 25 years. He was the founder and first president of the Catalan Association of Research Organizations (ACER), he received the National Research Award, he was recognized with the Leadership Award of the Optical Society of America, with the Mentoring Award of the Nature magazine and was even the herald of the Mercè festivities in Barcelona in 2012.
"I will help in whatever way I can and whatever is asked of me to help research in Catalonia", declares Torner, who has played an important role in the so-called Quantum Valley of Catalonia, a project promoted by the Generalitat and coordinated by the ICFO. "What I will not do is enter politics, because it requires skills that I do not have."