Photon Factory

Our people

The Photon Factory is directed by Associate Professor Cather Simpson, an expert in the field of ultra-short lasers. She and Peter Hosking, the Photon Factory Head Engineer, oversee a group of researchers at all levels of education and training.


Cather Simpson

Associate Professor Cather Simpson


Phone: +64 9 373 7599 ext 83525

Cather Simpson studies fast (femtoseconds to nanoseconds) photochemistry and photophysics of molecules in the condensed phase using the tools of pulsed laser spectroscopy. She is particularly interested in how molecules "decide" what to do with the energy they absorb as light as they convert it to more useful forms of energy, such as mechanical motion or a charge separated state. She also explores the fundamental interaction of light with materials in laser machining and microfabrication applications. She directs the academic collaborative and industry-facing projects for the Photon Factory, working with companies like Intuitive Surgical in the USA, NextWindow, Rakon and Izon.

Cather is the current President of the New Zealand Institute of Physics. In 2012, she won a Dean's Award for Teaching Excellence, followed by a University of Auckland Sustained Teaching Excellence Award and a National Tertiary Teaching Excellence award in 2013.

Reece Oosterbeek

Reece Oosterbeek

Project Manager


Reece is from Auckland, and completed a BE(Hons) and ME in Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Auckland. In 2013 he joined the Photon Factory as a project manager and research engineer. He works mainly on the Dielectric Machining project, investigating how pulse shaping and other techniques can be used to make femtosecond laser micromachining more efficient for industrial applications. He also contributes to and manages a number of other projects in the fields of microfluidics, biomedical devices, and surface chemistry.

Postdocs and Engineers

Michél Nieuwoudt

Michél Nieuwoudt

Michél is originally from Pretoria, South Africa but has lived in Auckland for 11 years now. In 2012 she completed her PhD in Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, which focused on studying the composition of the passive film on iron during pitting corrosion, using Raman microscopy in situ with electrochemical polarization (more physical chemistry than physics!). Before that she completed her MSc in Chemistry at the University of South Africa, Pretoria and BSc(Hons) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Currently she is a Postdoctoral scientist working on a PGP project with Fonterra under supervision of Professor David Williams in collaboration with Cather Simpson and the Photon Factory. Prior to that she worked in various roles including Instrument Technician in the School of Chemical Sciences and Senior Research Officer in the Raman and Luminescence Laboratory at the University of the Witwatersrand. Her interests are the application of vibrational spectroscopy for analysis of materials, especially Raman spectroscopy and SERS. Besides that - music of any kind (except County & Western and Opera) and art, walking or cycling on nature tracks and spending time with family.

Graham Brodie

Graham Brodie

Graham is a Postdoc physicist at the Photon Factory originally from Stirling in central Scotland. He studied for his BSc in Physics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, graduating in 2008, after which he moved to the University of Dundee to complete an MSc in Design for Medical Technologies with a focus on medical ultrasound imaging and focused ultrasound surgery, finishing in 2009. In that same year he began a PhD with the Biophotonics group at the University of Dundee on the Sonotweezers project which aimed to develop ultrasonic traps for use in biomedical applications. Graham's main focus was in combining these traps with optical tweezers and creating hybrid optical-acoustic particle sorting systems. After completing his PhD in 2013, Graham moved to Auckland and began working as a postdoc at the Photon Factory in July 2014. He is currently working on developing optical microfluidic sorting systems for the Engender project.

Fraser MacMillan

Fraser MacMillan


Fraser is from Auckland and has completed a Bachelor of Engineering/Bachelor of Commerce conjoint degree with first class honours. He is interested in micromachining and is currently working on a machining project with Izon Science Inc. Fraser was the second student, after Josh, to join the Photon Factory. Fraser is in charge of training people on the laser machining station and overseeing scheduling and use of the system. 

Hayley Ware

Hayley Ware

Hayley is from Auckland and has completed a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering with honours at the University of Auckland. She has been working in the Photon Factory for several years now, and has become adept in the design and manufacture of microfluidic devices. She is particularly experienced with fluid control, and has done previous work on cell sorting and processing cells for single cell metabolomics. She is currently working as Engender’s microfluidics expert. She enjoys adventures in new places and long hours in the cleanroom.

Julie Kho

Julie Kho

Julie comes from Malaysia and has studied a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Applied Mathematics. She completed her BSc(Hons) first class in Chemistry and is currently completing a PhD in Chemical Sciences. She is studying the photochemistry and photophysics of solar harvesting molecular complexes using ultrafast transient absorption spectroscopy. She is also in a program with the MacDiarmid Institute learning how to evaluate scientific research for its commercial potential.


PhD Students

Simon Ashforth

Simon Ashforth (Physics)

Simon is from Singapore. He completed a BTech degree in Medical Physics in 2011, and then a MSc in 2014 in the Photon Factory. He is continuing his previous work on the Intuitive Surgical project for his PhD. He loves dissection and writing reports.

Dijana Bogunovic

Dijana Bogunovic (Physics)

Dijana comes from Croatia where she earned her BSc in Physics. She completed her MSc in Optics at CREOL, University of Central Florida. After working as an optical designer, Dijana started her PhD on integrated optical devices in organic polymer films. This research includes photodegradation, poling and laser ablation of chromophore doped polymers. These are all necessary steps in the manufacture of EO polymer devices, with tunable Bragg grating being the primary goal. Her research is divided between Callaghan Innovation, Wellington and Photon Factory, University of Auckland.

Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson (Chemistry)

Sarah is from Auckland, New Zealand and has completed a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History (specialising in Egyptology) and a Bachelor of Science (Honours, 1st Class) in Medicinal Chemistry. In an attempt to combine the arts and science halves of her brain, she’s currently working towards her PhD in ultrafast spectroscopy of historical art pigments, supported by a University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship. She is interested in discovering exactly how and why they fade, from their fundamental photochemistry upwards. When she’s not in the lab you’ll find her either in a ballet studio or an orchestra pit.

Nina Novikova

Nina Novikova (Chemistry)

Nina is originally from Russia. She earned her BSc, PGDipSci, MSc in Chemistry from the University of Auckland and has now begun her PhD, with a MacDiarmid Fellowship, in Chemical Sciences in a joint project with Cather Simpson and Penny Brothers. Her research focuses on photophysics and photochemistry of boron-porphyrin complexes. She does everything from synthesising, purifying and characterising the complexes to measuring their photoexcited dynamics using femtosecond spectroscopy and using quantum chemistry to compute their properties.

Matheus Vargas

Matheus Vargas (Chemistry)

Matheus is from Brazil. He is currently doing his Bachelor of Science (Honours), which is a project in partnership with the School of Biological Sciences. He is interested in interdisciplinary projects. His current project involves Laser Induced Fluorescence Spectroscopy (LIFS), acoustics and enzymatic assay.

Andy Wang

Andy Wang (Chemistry)

Andy (Xindi) is doing a PhD with a University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship. He is chasing his interest in the photochemistry of diphosphenes. Diphosphenes contain phosphorus-phosphorus double bonds, and are the chemical cousins of C=C and N=N conjugated systems. Over 400 patents have been written about the utility of C=C and N=N molecules to be photoactive elements in molecular scale devices. Andy wants to use picosecond timescale resonance Raman to explore the P=P analogs and see if he can come up with new, useful materials for these applications.

Ruth Cink

Ruth Cink (Chemistry)

Ruth comes from the United States and has completed a BA (Magna Cum Laude) in Chemistry from Northwestern College (Orange City, Iowa). After working for a few years in industry, she earned her MSc in Chemistry (with an emphasis in education) from the University of Northern Colorado. Ruth is now working on her PhD at AUT and is co-supervised by Nicola Brasch, Allan Blackman, and Cather Simpson. Her research focuses on studying the photogeneration of HNO by a novel class of photoactive HNO-donor molecules.

Reece Whitby

Reece Whitby (Chemistry)

Reece is from Liverpool, England where he completed his Chemistry BSc (2011). Afterwards, he worked for two years in the pharmaceutical industry, focused on influenza drug discovery. Reece is now undertaking his PhD at the University of Auckland/Callaghan Innovation, predominantly based in Wellington. His work involves the synthesis of photoinitiators for polymerisation using a femtosecond laser system to create microscale devices using the machining stage at the Photon Factory.



Yael Ben-Tal

Yael Ben-Tal

Yael was born in Israel but has lived in Auckland for most of her life. She is currently studying for her BSc/BA conjoint degree, majoring in Chemistry and Philosophy. In late 2013 she joined the lab as a summer scholarship student and is presently working on a collaborative project with Callaghan Innovation, focusing on photopolymerisation.

Jacob Martin

Jacob Martin

Jacob comes from Cambridge, New Zealand. He completed his Bachelor of Science with Physics and Chemistry in 2012, and is now doing a BSc(Hons) in Chemistry in the Photon Factory. He is interested in spectroscopy and is currently building a single wavelength system for the broadband femtosecond transient absorption spectrometer. He is also interested in the data analysis and has written PyTrA for visualisation and fitting of ultrafast transient spectra. Jake has also worked on micromachining projects. He is interested in EVERYTHING.

Tristan Ware

Tristan Ware

Tristan is from Auckland and is in the process of completing a Bachelor of Engineering and would like to specialise in Mechanical Engineering next year. He has only recently joined the Photon Factory but is enjoying learning about the equipment and is looking forward to being part of a big project. Outside of the Photon Factory he loves trips out of town to ski and fish.

Rakesh Arul

Rakesh Arul

Rakesh is from Malaysia and is in his second year of a BE(Hons)/BSc majoring in Chemical Engineering, Chemistry and Biology. He joined the Photon Factory as a 2013 Summer Scholarship student working on graphene film machining and characterisation. He is now working on a new project to do with Laser Solution Chemistry and is super-excited about it! 

Tom Ward

Tom Ward

Tom is from Wellington and is in his final year of a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering. He joined the Photon Factory in 2013 and has worked on projects with Izon & cutting of Alumina.


Former group members


Josh Bradfield

Josh is a South African born, British citizen who has lived most of his life in New Zealand. He has completed a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics. He is interested in rock climbing and worked on several micromachining and microfabrication projects in the lab. Josh is the first undergraduate hired to work in the Photon Factory, and is one of the initial invention team for the Engender Technologies sperm sorting project. He is now working in the real world.


Jessica Costa

Jess is from Massachusetts, USA and completed her Doctorate in Biology at the University of Denver. She is interested in bone and brain cell biology and is working on applications of lasers to various live tissues. She is part of the Intuitive Surgical project, with Simon.


Louise Martin

Lab Manager


Louise grew up in Christchurch but moved to Auckland to study French and European Studies at the University of Auckland, and completed an honours year of European Studies in 2013. She works as the lab manager at the Photon Factory, which includes admin, scheduling meetings and general organisation of people.


Hugo Bateman

Hugo is from Auckland and is currently doing a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) at the University of Auckland. He is currently working on microfluidic devices.


Laura Bradley

Laura is from Auckland and is in her final year of a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Mechatronics at the University of Auckland. She is interested in electronics system design and is currently working on systems design in microfluidics. She joined the Photon Factory in late 2012 as a summer scholarship student, and continues to work on the Engender Technologies project.


Zeus Engineer

Zeus is from India and has just finished a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) / Bachelor of Science conjoint degree at the University of Auckland. He has a major in Physics and Electrical/Electronic Engineering but has also dabbled in Chemistry, Geography, French, Mathematics, Marine Science and Communications. He is currently working in the Photon Factory as a summer scholarship student. His project investigates the generation of chirped optical pulses and how using them can improve the dielectric machining process. Zeus can usually be found on a cricket field or lounging under the sun at the beach.


Sophia Chan

Sophia is from Auckland, New Zealand and in her final year of a Bachelor of Engineering, specialising in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Auckland. Sophia joined the Photon Factory in 2012 as a summer scholarship student. She is interested in design, and works with Dr Bryon Wright on microfluidic techniques to develop an automated system to process single cell metabolomics.


TJ Yohendiran

TJ is originally from Sri Lanka but has been living in New Zealand for 18 years now. He has just completed his Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Electrical and Electronics Engineering at the University of Auckland. He is currently working at The Photon Factory as a Summer Scholarship Student, working on electronic device design. Apart from working on electronics, he enjoys composing music and chilling with friends.


Matt Edmond

Matt was a senior Engineering Science student at the University of Auckland. He worked in the Photon Factory for a couple of years, and was our resident expert on micromachining of ceramics.


Brandon Farrell

Brandon is from Johannesburg, South Africa. He is in his final year of a Bachelor of Engineering degree, specialising in Computer Systems. Brandon joined the Photon Factory as a summer scholarship student in 2012. He is working with Dr Bryon Wright on micromachining, particularly in the area of translational manufacturing techniques – how to take our prototype designs in soft photolithography polymers to commercial products.


Sunay Gotla

Sunay completed his BTech degree in Medical Physics and Imaging Technology in the Photon Factory in 2012. His project involved development and testing of a microfluidic device to extract water from highly complex solutions like blood plasma.


Isaac Hamling

Isaac is from Whanganui in New Zealand and has completed a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Engineering Science. He worked on the Engender project doing computer modeling of microfluidic channels. In his spare time he enjoys playing League of Legends.


Emma Wu

Emma is from Taiwan and completed her Bachelor of Technology in Medical Physics and Imaging Technology in 2012 in the Photon Factory. Her “Needle in a Haystack” project involved collaboration with Dr Larry Chamley in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, and Dr Karthik Kannappan to design, construct and test a passive cell sorting device that can isolate (or enrich) a cell type that is present in blood at 1:1,000,000,000 concentration.


Stephen Leach

In 2012, Stephen earned his BSc(Hons) in Physics with a project on laser induced surface patterns (LISPs) in the Photon Factory. His project involved creating and characterising both types of LISPs in Ni, Ag and Au films, with an eye to improving surface plasmon resonance measurements of molecular behaviour.


Jane Leung

Jane is from Hong Kong and completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in both Chemistry and Physics in 2012 before joining the Photon Factory as a summer scholarship student. Her research focused upon microfluidics, and led to a commercial device that extracts water from complex fluids like plasma.


Jason (Ka-Shing) Ng

Jason was born and raised in Auckland and has completed his final year in Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Auckland. He is interested in building things, anatomy and physiology. Jason had a summer scholarship in the Photon Factory (2012/13), and his project was to work with Simon and Jess to continue developing the femtosecond laser machining of challenging tissue. Jason now works for Fisher & Paykel Healthcare.


Dr Charles Rohde

Chuck is from Saginaw, Michigan in the USA. He completed his Bachelor of Science in Physics in 2000 at Michigan Technological University, and his Doctorate in Physics at the University of Oregon in 2008, where his studies concentrated on the coherent coupling of surface plasmon polaritons in systems with spherical curvature. Between 1999 and 2001 Chuck worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory studying the effects of ground topology on satellite based radiance measurements. In 2008 he was awarded postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Auckland, under Dr Cather Simpson in the Photon Factory, to study ultrafast spectroscopy and ultrafast pulsed laser machining. Chuck is now working for Engender Technologies, Ltd. as the Engender Science Team Leader, to commercialise research from the Photon Factory.


Oliver Sanders

Oliver was born in England, and moved to New Zealand when he was a child. In 2012, he earned his BTech in Optics in the Department of Physics on a project in the Photon Factory. His project was to build a Kerr shuttered femtosecond-to-picosecond fluorescence spectrometer. Currently, he is working at Lumley until he decides what to do with the rest of his life.


Jennifer Stott

Jennifer is from Auckland and has just finished her Bachelor of Science majoring in Mathematics and Chemistry at the University of Auckland. She is keen on mathematics, and how it can help to understand physics and chemistry. She joined the Photon Factory in 2012 as a summer scholarship student, and is now completing her BSc (Honours) with us. Her project is to use advanced quantum chemistry to explore very rapid transitions in the diphosphene molecular system that Andy studies.


Mona (Xin) Zhu

Mona was born in Shanghai, China and has lived most of her life in New Zealand. She completed her Bachelor of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Auckland and worked at the Photon Factory for a few years while studying. Mona was involved in the early stages of the Engender Technologies sperm sorting project.


Yuen Sze (Correy) Tong

Correy is from Hong Kong, and is one of the older members of the Photon Factory. He is currently studying Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Auckland. His main interest within the Photon Factory is laser machining but is currently working on a project in collaboration with a Postdoctoral researcher in School of Biological Sciences to design a device for his experiments. In 2013, Correy won the top Poster Prize at the AMN-6 International Conference for "Poem on a Hair".


Owen Bodley

Owen is from Auckland and completed a BE(Hons) (specialising in Mechanical Engineering) at the University of Auckland. He works on projects related to the fields of microfluidics and laser micro machining. Owen is very passionate about contributing to New Zealand’s high tech industry so it can continue to successfully compete on the world stage. In his spare time, Owen works on a small internet startup and enjoys water sports and camping.

As well as:

  • Laura Harvey (MSc Physics graduate)
  • Jessica Hendy (BA(Hons) Anthropology)
  • Christiaan Hougaard (BSc(Hons) Physics)
  • Dr Karthik Kannappan (Chemistry, Research Scientist)
  • Kaidi Liang (BTech Physics)
  • Amy Lin (MSc Physics graduate)
  • Sean Liew (BTech Physics)
  • Ethan Oldale (BSc Computer science)
  • Ling Yan Pang (BSc Physics)
  • James Park (BSc(Hons) Chemistry)
  • Hafizah Rahim (Physics)
  • Emma Simpson (Physics exchange student)
  • Edward Woon Wei An (BTech Physics; Research Scientist)
  • Geran Zhang (Biomedical Engineering)

Visitors - past and present

Current visitor

  • Christina Cochrane, Royal Society of New Zealand Primary Science Teacher Fellowship (2013). Christ The King School (Mt Roskill)

Past visitors