EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Integrated Photonic and Electronic Systems

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Electronic and Electrical Engineering


This proposal seeks funding to create a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Integrated Photonic and Electronic Systems. Photonics plays an increasing role in systems, ranging from sensing, biophotonics and manufacturing, through communications from the chip-to-chip to transcontinental scale, to the plethora of new screen and projection display technologies that have been developed, bringing higher resolution, lower power operation and enabling new ways of human-machine interaction.

These advances have set the scene for a major change in commercialisation activity where photonics and electronics will converge in a wide range of information, sensing, communications, manufacturing and personal healthcare systems. Currently, systems are realised by combining separately developed photonic components, such as lasers and photodetectors with electronic circuits. This approach is labour intensive and requires many electrical interconnects as well as optical alignment on the micron scale. Devices are optimised separately and then brought together to meet systems specifications. Such an approach, although it has delivered remarkable results, not least the communications systems upon which the internet depends, limits the benefits that could come from the full integration of photonics with electronics and systems.

To achieve such integration requires researchers who have not only deep understanding of their specialist area, but also an excellent understanding across the fields of electronic and photonic hardware and software.

This proposal therefore seeks to meet this important need, building upon the uniqueness and extent of the UCL and Cambridge research, where research activities are already focussing on the direct monolithic integration of lasers with silicon electronics, 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 electronic systems integration, and so the proposed CDT includes experts in electronic circuits, computer systems and software. By drawing these complementary activities together, and building upon initial work towards this goal carried out within our previously funded CDT in Photonic Systems Development, it is proposed to develop an advanced training programme to equip the next generation of very high calibre doctoral students with the required technical expertise, commercial and business skills, and thus provide innovation opportunities for the integration of photonic and electronics in new systems in the coming years. It should be stressed that the CDT will provide a wide range of methods for learning for research students, well beyond that conventionally available, so that they can gain the required skills. In addition to conventional lectures and seminars, for example, there will be bespoke experimental coursework activities, reading clubs, roadmapping activities, secondments to companies and other research laboratories and business planning courses.

The integration of photonic and electronic systems is likely to widen the range of systems into which these technologies are deployed in other key sectors of the economy, such as printing, consumer electronics, computing, defence, energy, engineering, security and medicine. As a result, a key feature of the CDT will be a developed awareness in its student cohorts of the breadth of opportunity available and a confidence that they can make impact therein.

Planned Impact

The impact of the CDT in Integrated Photonic and Electronic Systems is expected to be wide ranging and include both scientific research and industry outcomes. In terms of academia, it is envisaged that there will be a growing range of research activity in this converged field in coming years, and so the research students should not only have opportunities to continue their work as research fellows, but also to increasingly find posts as academics and indeed in policy advice and consulting.

The main area of impact, however, is expected to be industrial manufacturing and service industries. Industries involved will include those involved in all areas of ICT, together with printing, consumer electronics, construction, infrastructure, defence, energy, engineering, security, medicine and indeed systems companies providing information systems, for example for the financial, retail and medical sectors. Such industries will be at the heart of the digital economy, energy, healthcare, security and manufacturing fields. These industries have huge markets, for example the global consumer electronics market is expected to reach $289 billion in 2014. It should also be noted that the photonics sector itself represents a huge enterprise. The global photonics market was $385B in 2010 and is growing with a CAGR of >10%. The Photonics 21 pan-European industry group estimates that the European photonics industry generated revenues of Eu 58B in 2010 and employed 290,000 people. They recognised that photonics is deployed in many industries and has an impact on markets with > Eu 3.6 trillion and 30 M jobs (about 14% of the total) in Europe.

Rightly highlighted by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the wider UK EPES (Electronics, Photonics and Electrical Systems) manufacturing sector turned over £42.4B in 2006, and employed over 330,000 people in 14,500 enterprises, with particular strengths in defence, imaging, displays, components, communications, lighting and solar energy. As well as involving large companies, such as BAE Systems, Arm and QinetiQ, there are over 10,000 UK SMEs in the EPES manufacturing sector, according to the TSB. Evidence of the entrepreneurial culture that exists and the potential for benefit to the UK economy from establishing the CDT includes the founding of companies such as Smart Holograms, Light Blue Optics, recent recipients of $26M venture funding, Zinwave, Eight19 and Photon Design by staff and our former PhD students. Indeed, over 20 companies have been spun out in the last 10 years from the groups proposing this CDT.

Centre research activities will contribute very strongly to research impact in the ICT area (computer interconnects, next generation access technologies, cellular network backhaul, converged photonic/electronic integration, quantum information processing etc), underpinning the Digital Economy theme, and contributing strongly to the themes of Energy (low energy lighting, low energy large area photonic/electronics for e-posters and window shading, photovoltaics, energy efficient displays), Manufacturing the Future (integrated photonic and electronic circuits, smart materials processing with photonics), Next Generation Healthcare (optical coherence tomography, discrete and real time biosensing, personalised healthcare), Global Uncertainties and Living with Environmental Change (advanced sensing systems incorporating electronics with photonics).



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