Faculty Profile: Assistant Professor Loïc Markley

Dr. Markley holds a metamaterial prototype

Dr. Markley holds a metamaterial prototype

Q: What is your educational background – schools, degrees, theses of note (etc.)?

A: I grew up in a small town in northern BC, moving to Whitehorse when I was twelve and entering Yukon College after graduating from high school. From there, I transferred into the Engineering Science program at Simon Fraser University and graduated in 2004 with a specialization in electronics engineering. I participated in the engineering co-op program and was placed in hardware development at Nortel Networks followed by a placement in biomedical engineering at Vancouver General Hospital. In my final year, I completed an undergraduate thesis on cycling efficiency under the supervision of a biomechanics professor from the Department of Kinesiology.

I was originally interested in biomedical engineering, but after taking a fourth-year elective in high-frequency electronics, I was introduced to the field of microwave engineering and I’ve never looked back. I joined the Electromagnetics Group at the University of Toronto where I began studying exotic new artificial electromagnetic materials called metamaterials. I finished my Master’s degree in 2007, and continued on with a PhD, researching methods to focus electromagnetic waves to subwavelength spots for imaging applications. I completed my PhD in early 2013, moving to Kelowna soon after to start my position here at the School of Engineering.

Q: Why did you become an engineer – who or what inspired you?

A: Since I was a child, I always wanted to know how things worked. I loved taking things apart to try and figure out which part did what and how they all fit together. Thankfully, my parents were very patient with me, allowing me to leave dismantled washing machines and radios strewn over the basement floor for weeks at a time. In high school, however, I was more focused on music than science. It wasn’t until my college calculus professor, a recent computer engineering PhD from Waterloo, told me stories of his graduate research that I realized engineering would be a natural fit. I’ve come a long ways from my parents’ basement and my methods have become more sophisticated, but I still feel the same excitement I felt as a child when I encounter a new unsolved problem in my research.

Q: What student experiences of your own do you count as a high point(s) and challenge(s)?

A: As a graduate student, some of my best experiences were traveling to conferences and meeting the top researchers from universities all over the world. I always felt inspired hearing all the new ideas being presented and seeing how my work fit within the research community. It was also very enriching to spend a concentrated amount of time with students from diverse backgrounds who all share the same passion for learning and have the same interest in electromagnetics.

My biggest challenge in graduate school was having to put aspects of my life on hold in order to pursue my studies. Living in my thirties as a student while many of my professional friends were buying their first homes and starting families was sometimes very difficult and I often longed for more stability. In the end, I found a city I love and a job I am passionate about and the long wait has been worth it.

Q: Why did you choose to work at UBC’s Okanagan campus – what brought you here?

A: I had never visited UBC Okanagan before seeing the advertisement for an assistant professor position, but I realized very quickly that I couldn’t ask for a better place to work and live. As a teacher, the smaller campus size helps to build closer relationships with students and creates more engaging classes, resulting in a better teaching and learning experience. As a researcher, being part of an established institution provides access to considerable resources and expertise. Since the campus is relatively new, I also have the opportunity to be involved in the growth and development of the School and play a part in shaping its future. Working with a talented group of young and energetic professors in a friendly and supportive environment has been very rewarding and the interdisciplinary nature of the School provides unique opportunities for collaboration.

Q: What are your research interests and current projects?

A: The main focus of my research is in electromagnetic wave engineering. This involves tailoring the electric and magnetic material properties of different structures to control the wave patterns propagating through and around them. I study the nature of waves within such materials and apply the resulting insights to the design of microwave circuits, transmission-line based devices, antennas, and antenna arrays. My current projects focus on characterizing the “handedness” of different metamaterials for potential applications in optics and imaging, and the use of graded index materials at microwave frequencies to enhance antenna beam patterns. I am also interested in applying wave engineering to applications in microfluidics, acoustics, and power systems in collaboration with some of my colleagues.

Q: What is the significance of your research — what are the implications?

A: Research into wave propagation through exotic media provides new tools to analyze and design wave-guiding structures, while providing insights into the limits of wave engineering. The explosion in research on metamaterials at the start of the new millennium led to the discovery of new wave phenomena and forced a rigorous reformulation of many wave concepts. Wave theory governs fields from optics to electronics to acoustics, and there are still many potential applications of modern wave engineering in telecommunications, imaging, wireless power transfer, and more. With mobile connectivity added to almost every new electronic device, and an increasing demand for faster data rates and more efficient power consumption, there is a huge market for high performance microwave circuits and antennas.

Q: What engineering compound, materials, or equipment do you find most fascinating, and why?

A: I began my graduate studies at U of T in the wake of some of the first successful experiments involving metamaterials, and I was immediately intrigued by the exotic electromagnetic behaviours they exhibited. These artificially synthesized materials have electric and magnetic responses that can take on values far beyond what is available in nature. This results in interesting phenomena such as negative refraction (bending light backwards) and perfect focusing. I have continued to study these materials in detail and, ten years later, I am still very fascinated by their properties!

Q: Tell us about your laboratory facilities – the kind of research you do there, the students, the equipment and their capabilities.

A: Although my research typically involves both theory and experiment, my graduate students are currently all working on the modeling and characterization of various electromagnetic structures using full-wave numerical simulations. I am slowly building my inventory of lab equipment, and by next year I hope to have high frequency test equipment for measuring microwave circuit parameters and for measuring the electromagnetic near fields around different devices and structures.

Currently, I have one PhD student, two MASc students, and one undergraduate student under my supervision. By the end of the summer, I plan on having added to this number.

Q: What most excites you about the future of applied sciences? About the School of Engineering?

A: As applied sciences continue to drive the increasing pace of technological change, innovative engineering programs like those delivered by the School of Engineering will have a larger role in training the engineers of the future. New technological developments are increasingly evolving out of interdisciplinary collaborations that bring experts from different traditional forms of engineering together. We are seeing this push in high tech companies both locally as well as on a wider scale in Canada and the world. By providing graduate and undergraduate students in the School of Engineering with a unique and accessible blend of cross-disciplinary expertise, we are fostering graduates with the skillset to thrive in this interdisciplinary world. I am very excited to be a part of the growth of this School as it continues to develop its programs and attract top applicants to the Okanagan.

Q: What do you like about living in the Okanagan (special hobbies or interests outside of work)?

A: Kelowna is the perfect balance between a small town and a big city. As an avid rock climber and snowboarder, I particularly enjoy taking advantage of the abundant opportunities for outdoor pursuits within the Okanagan. At the same time, Kelowna has some great fine dining options and a small but dedicated Latin dance scene for the occasional night out.

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