EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Physical Science


In a consortium led by Heriot-Watt with St Andrews, Glasgow, Strathclyde and Dundee, this proposal is for an EPSRC CDT in Applied Photonics and responds to the Integrative Technologies priority area, but also impacts on the Measurement and Sensing, Photonic Materials and Innovative Production Processes priorities.

Technologies integrating photonics and electronics pervade products and services in any modern economy, enabling vital activities in manufacturing, security, telecommunications, healthcare, retail, entertainment and transport. The success of UK companies in this technology space is threatened by a lack of doctoral-level researchers with a grasp of photonic- / electronic-engineering design, fabrication and systems integration, coupled with high-level business, management and communication skills. By ensuring a supply of these individuals, our CDT will deliver broad-ranging impacts on the UK industrial knowledge base, driving the high-growth export-led sectors of the UK economy whose photonics-enabled products and services have far-reaching impacts on society, from consumer technology and mobile computing devices to healthcare and security.

Building on the success of our current IDC in Optics and Photonics Technologies, the proposed CDT will again be configured as an IDC but will enhance our existing programme to meet industry's need for engineers able to integrate photonic and electronic devices, circuits and systems to deliver high value products and processes.

Our proposal was developed in partnership with industry, whose letters of support show a commitment to sponsoring 71-74 EngD and 14-17 PhD projects -- 40% more than the minimum required -- demonstrating exceptional industrial engagement. Major stakeholders include Fraunhofer UK, NPL, Renishaw, Thales, BAE Systems, Gooch and Housego and Selex ES, who are joined by a number of SMEs.

The CDT follows a model in which (annually) EPSRC funds 7 EngD students, with 3 more supported by industrial / university contributions. In a progressive strategy supported by our industrial partners, we will, where appropriate, align university-funded PhD projects to the programme to leverage greater industry engagement with PhD research in the consortium.

The focus of the CDT corresponds to areas of research excellence in the consortium, which comprises 89 academic supervisors, whose papers since 2008 total 584 in all optics journals , with 111 in Science / Nature / PRL, and whose active EPSRC PI photonics funding is £40.9M. All academics are experienced supervisors, having each supervised on average >6 doctoral students, with many previously acting as IDC supervisors. The strategic commitment by the participating universities is evidenced by their recruitment since 2008 of 29 new academic staff in relevant areas (including 9 professors).

An 8-month frontloaded residential phase in St Andrews and Glasgow will ensure the cohort strongly gels together, and will equip students with the technical knowledge and skills they need before they begin their industrial research project. Business modules (x3) will bring each cohort back to Heriot-Watt for 1-week periods, and weekend skills workshops will be used to regularly reunite the cohort, further consolidating it to create opportunities for peer-to-peer interactions.

Taught courses will total 120 credits, and will be supplemented by new Computational Methods, Systems Integration and Research Skills workshops delivered by our industry partners, as well as public-engagement training led by Glasgow Science Centre.

Another innovation is an International Advisory Board, comprising leading academics / industrialists , who will benchmark and advise on our performance.

The requested EPSRC support of £4.5M is complemented by £2.8M of industrial / academic cash, covering the cost of 3 students in each cohort of 10. In-kind industrial / academic contributions are worth a further £5.4M, providing exceptional value.

Planned Impact

This section should be read with the accompanying Pathways to Impact document, which describes how we intend to ensure impacts is realized in several different aspects.

Real-world impact is the leading priority for our industrial partners. Their confidence that the proposed CDT will deliver valuable scientific, engineering and commercial impact is emphasized by their overwhelming financial support (£4.1M from industry in the form of cash contributions, and further in-kind support of £5.3M).

Here we summarize what will be the impacts expected from the proposed CDT.

(1) Impact on People
(a) Students
The CDT will have its major impact on the students themselves, by providing them with new understanding, skills and abilities (technical, business, professional), and by enhancing their employability.
(b) The UK public
The engagement planned in the CDT will educate and inform the general public about the high quality science and engineering being pursued by researchers in the CDT, and will also contribute to raising the profile of this mode of doctoral training -- particularly important since the public have limited awareness of the mechanisms through which research scientists are trained.

(2) Impact on Knowledge
New scientific knowledge and engineering know-how will be generated by the CDT. Theses, conference / journal papers and patents will be published which disseminate this knowledge.

(3) Impact on UK industry and economy
UK companies will gain a competitive advantage by using know-how and new techniques generated by CDT researchers.
Companies will also gain from improved recruitment and retention of high quality staff.
Longer term economic impacts will be felt as increased turnover and profitability for companies, and perhaps other impacts such as the generation / segmentation of new markets, and companies receiving inward investment for new products.

(4) Impact on Society
Research in the CDT spans many sectors, all of which impact society, e.g. in the improvement of healthcare diagnostics, or in the creation of new consumer products and services. This CDT has particular resonance with all of the RCUK stated societal challenge themes, with more detail provided in the Pathways to Impact document.
Greater internationalisation of the cohort of CDT researchers is expect from some of the CDT activities (e.g. international summer schools), with the potential impact if greater collaboration in the future between the next generations of UK and international researchers.


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