Amr Helmy

Always A Work In Progress

The status quo is never good enough for this photonics professor, be it society's conception of the universe or the music on his personal playlist.


Amr Helmy is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto.  We asked him everything from what advice he would give to young researchers to what he does for fun to give you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What inspired you to become a researcher?
Research leads to enhanced knowledge in breadth and depth. Knowledge transforms one’s perspective on life. The insights and approaches taken in any one discipline of research influence us and the fashion by which we lead our lives. That is what attracted me to research.

What do you like most about your work?
I like that I challenge existing notions and prove them wrong sometimes. I also love the impact some of the research has on fields including communications, sensing and biomedical diagnostics.

What do you envision in the future of your field?
Being able to control the properties of the individual building blocks of light (photons) in a practical platform will transform our ability to use light to detect and treat disease. It will also likely provide a quantum leap in the way by which we use light for computation, communication and metrology.

What advice would you give to young researchers?
When you assess a given career path, a project you would like to start or a mission statement that you would like to live by, consider the near, medium and far term implications. What may be attractive and suitable in the near term may not be so on another time scale.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 
Training scientist that currently lead several research groups in the labs of world leading companies in my field.

What do you read?
Usually non-fiction, such as history and biographies.

What’s on your iPod/CD collection/turntable?
I have all sorts of music as they cater to different moods. From classical guitar and piano to Argentine tango to classic rock.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be? 
A clinician or a nonclinical researcher in the medical field. The impact on people’s lives is difficult to surpass.

What do you like to do for fun?
Music-related activities (concerts and dancing)

Do you have a favourite motto/words to live by?
I have some but they evolve as I do; always a work in progress.

Want to learn more about Professor Helmy’s research? Check out his Orange Chair Interview on using photons of light to miniaturize technologies.