Securing the Future: Photonic Systems Development

Lead Research Organisation: University College London


Dramatic progress has been made in the past few years in the field of photonic technologies, to complement those in electronic technologies which have enabled the vast advances in information processing capability. A plethora of new screen and projection display technologies have been developed, bringing higher resolution, lower power operation and enabling new ways of machine interaction. Advances in biophotonics have led to a large range of low cost products for personal healthcare. Advances in low cost communication technologies to rates now in excess of 10 Gb/s have caused transceiver unit price cost reductions from >$10,000 to less than $100 in a few years, and, in the last two years, large volume use of parallel photonics in computing has come about. Advances in polymers have made possible the formation of not just links but complete optical subsystems fully integrated within circuit boards, so that users can expect to commoditise bespoke photonics technology themselves without having to resort to specialist companies. These advances have set the scene for a major change in commercialisation activity where photonics and electronics will converge in a wide range of systems. Importantly, photonics will become a fundamental underpinning technology for a much greater range of users outside its conventional arena, who will in turn require those skilled in photonics to have a much greater degree of interdisciplinary training. In short, there is a need to educate and train researchers who have skills balanced across the fields of electronic and photonic hardware and software. The applicants are unaware of such capability currently.This Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) proposal therefore seeks to meet this important need, building upon the uniqueness of the Cambridge and UCL research activities that are already focussing on new types of displays based on polymer and holographic projection technology, the application of photonic communications to computing, personal information systems and indeed consumer products (via board-to-board, chip to chip and later on-chip interconnects), the increased use of photonics in industrial processing and manufacture, techniques for the low-cost roll-out of optical fibre to replace the copper network, the substitution of many conventional lighting products with photonic light sources and extensive application of photonics in medical diagnostics and personalised medicine. Many of these activities will increasingly rely on more advanced systems integration, and so the proposed DTC includes experts in computer systems and software. By drawing these complementary activities together, it is proposed to develop an advanced training programme to equip the next generation of very high calibre doctoral students with the required expertise, commercial and business skills and thus provide innovation opportunities for new systems in the future. It should be stressed that the DTC will provide a wide range of methods for learning for students, well beyond that conventionally available, so that they can gain the required skills. In addition to lectures and seminars, for example, there will be bespoke experimental coursework activities, reading clubs, roadmapping activities, secondments to collaborators and business planning courses.Photonics is likely to become much more embedded in other key sectors of the economy, so that the beneficiaries of the DTC are expected to include industries involved in printing, consumer electronics, computing, defence, energy, engineering, security, medicine and indeed systems companies providing information systems for example for financial, retail and medical industries. Such industries will be at the heart of the digital economy, energy, healthcare and nanotechnology fields. As a result, a key feature of the DTC will be a developed awareness in its cohorts of the breadth of opportunity available and a confidence that they can make impact therein.


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