Dr Alison Yao

Senior Lecturer


Personal statement

I graduated from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, with a BSc (Hons) in Applied Physics with Semiconductor Electronics and did a Ph.D. at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, theoretically and computationally modelling nonlinear optical systems. After a career break to raise my children, I worked in the Optics Group at the University of Glasgow investigating microrheology and optical tweezers before returning to Strathclyde to work in quantum optics. I am currently a senior lecturer in the Computational and Nonlinear Optics Group at the University of Strathclyde, Deputy Director of Teaching, and lead the Fully-Structured Light Group (FOAM).

I was delighted and honoured to be awarded the "Best Teacher in Faculty of Science" at Strathclyde Union Teaching Excellence Awards 2019, a Faculty Teaching Excellence Award for Teaching Innovation in 2019, and a Strathclyde Medal in 2020.


Control of light-atom solitons and atomic transport by optical vortex beams propagating through a Bose-Einstein condensate
Henderson Grant W, Robb Gordon R M, Oppo Gian-Luca, Yao Alison M
Physical Review Letters Vol 129 (2022)
Rotating and spiraling spatial dissipative solitons of light and cold atoms
Baio Giuseppe, Ackemann Thorsten, Oppo Gian-Luca, Robb Gordon, Yao Alison
Physical Review A Vol 105 (2022)
Rotating and spiralling optomechanical cavity solitons
Baio Giuseppe, Robb Gordon RM, Ackemann Thorsten, Yao Alison M, Oppo Gian-Luca
2021 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics Europe & European Quantum Electronics Conference (CLEO/Europe-EQEC) 2021 European Quantum Electronics Conference, EQEC 2021 - Part of 2021 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics Europe, CLEO 2021 (2021)
Structural phase transitions in cold atoms mediated by optical feedback
Baio Giuseppe, Robb Gordon RM, Yao Alison M, Oppo Gian Luca, Ackemann Thorsten
2021 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics Europe & European Quantum Electronics Conference (CLEO/Europe-EQEC) 2021 European Quantum Electronics Conference, EQEC 2021 - Part of 2021 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics Europe, CLEO 2021 (2021)
Structuring light to rotate optical Turing patterns and solitons
Yao Alison M, Gibson Christopher J, Oppo Gian-Luca
2021 IEEE Photonics Society Summer Topicals Meeting Series, SUM 2021 - Proceedings 2021 IEEE Photonics Society Summer Topicals Meeting Series, SUM 2021 LEOS Summer Topical Meeting Vol 2021-July, pp. 1-2 (2021)
Mutual self structuring and novel Kerr-like fragmentation in coupled light/matter-wave interactions
Henderson Grant, Robb Gordon RM, Oppo Gian Luca, Yao Alison M
Nonlinear Optics, NLO 2021 2021 OSA Nonlinear Optics, NLO 2021 Optics InfoBase Conference Papers (2021)

More publications


I am the Deputy Director of Teaching for the Department of Physics.

I currently teach 1st year mechanics and electromagnetism in PH183: Mechanics & Waves and PH184: Electromagnetism & Quantum Physics, and optical angular momentum as part of PH562 Adv. Topics in Quantum Optics.

Research interests

My research is based upon the generation and applications of structured light, in particular light carrying orbital angular momentum (OAM). It ranges from understanding the fundamental properties of this light to investigating its behaviour in various nonlinear systems, including demonstrating for the first time the mechanism behind optical rogue waves, to potential applications in quantum communication, ocean optics, nonlinear beam propagation and interaction with chiral molecules. 

Professional activities

Structuring light for controlled propagation of optical and atomic solitons
Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) 2022
Colloquium on Structuring light for controlled propagation and manipulation
Light-mediated interaction in single-mirror feedback systems
Control of spatially rotating solitons in a self-focusing Kerr cavity
Reviewer in the evaluation of the Doctoral Academy Consortium NanoGraz: Functional Nanostructures in Physics, Chemistry and Life Sciences

More professional activities


Doctoral Training Partnership 2018-19 University of Strathclyde | Henderson, Grant
Yao, Alison (Principal Investigator) Oppo, Gian-Luca (Co-investigator) Henderson, Grant (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2019 - 01-Jan-2023
Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP 2016-2017 University of Strathclyde) | Hill, Lewis
Oppo, Gian-Luca (Principal Investigator) Yao, Alison (Co-investigator) Hill, Lewis (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2017 - 06-Jan-2021
Control and Applications of Structured Light and Chiral Molecules
Yao, Alison (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2017 - 31-Jan-2021
Collective effects and optomechanics in ultra-cold matter (ColOpt) (H2020 MCSA ETN)
Ackemann, Thorsten (Principal Investigator) Griffin, Paul (Co-investigator) Oppo, Gian-Luca (Co-investigator) Robb, Gordon (Co-investigator) Yao, Alison (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2017 - 31-Jan-2020
ORANGUTRAN - ORbital ANGUlar momentum TRANsmissometer with zero collection angle error
McKee, David (Principal Investigator) Griffin, Paul (Co-investigator) Yao, Alison (Co-investigator)
"Light passing through natural water systems experiences both absorption and scattering leading to important effects such as heating of the water, growth of plants through photosynthesis and generation of reflectance signals for remote sensing systems. One of the most common measures of the optical properties of a water body is the beam attenuation coefficient which is the sum of absorption and scattering. This is usually measured by recording the intensity of a beam of light after it has passed through a known length of water and comparing the signal with that obtained either in air or, more usually, in ultrapure water. It is usually assumed that any photons either absorbed or scattered do not make it to the detector and so the remaining signal is due entirely to directly transmitted photons. However, in reality, light is scattered in water in such a way that standard transmissometers accidentally collect a large and quite variable amount of forward scattered light. This means that the signal they generate has a large error that is actually a feature of the instrument design, and sensors with different optical layouts will provide substantially different values. It has long been thought that this was an inevitable feature of the measurement and most users simply ignore the problem. Indeed, current NASA measurement protocols for this parameter explicitly leave it to the end user of data to work out how to deal with this problem. This is an intolerable position for which we have recently found a new solution.

We are planning to build a new device to measure beam attenuation that exploits a recently developed understanding of a quantum property of photons called orbital angular momentum, OAM. We can control this quantum state of light and generate a beam of light with a defined OAM state. When such a beam of light experiences a scattering event, the OAM state changes by a defined, quantum amount that we can easily identify. We can use this change of quantum state to effectively label scattered photons and discriminate them from directly transmitted photons. This means we can measure the number of photons that make it across a volume of water without being absorbed or scattered, without being affected by the scattering collection error that causes problems for current instruments. Our device will then be significantly more accurate than what is currently available and will help researchers and other end-users make significantly better and consistent measurements of what is an extremely important optical property of natural water systems."
30-Jan-2016 - 29-Jan-2017
Doctoral Training Partnership (DTA - University of Strathclyde) | Gibson, Christopher
Yao, Alison (Principal Investigator) Oppo, Gian-Luca (Co-investigator) Gibson, Christopher (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2014 - 23-Jan-2019

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