Optoelectronics Research Centre – a world leader in photonics for over 40 years

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The EPSRC-supported Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton is acknowledged as a world leader in photonics, optical telecommunication, optical materials and high-power lasers, and is testament to the value of long-term investment in blue-skies and application-driven research. In 2017 the University was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in recognition of the many decades of inspired innovation in photonics and optical technology.

The ORC entrepreneurial researchers have founded 11 companies, generating revenue in excess of £200M and creating over 600 jobs. EPSRC has supported the Centre through a series of long-term investments dating back four decades, totalling over £20 million; this has been complemented by major investments from industrial partners such as Microsoft, Pirelli, Rockley Photonics and SPI Lasers.

Ideas generated at the ORC, the largest photonics group in the UK, have been fundamental to powering the global internet. More than one billion internet users now exchange over 2,000 petabytes of data every month. Most of this travels through optical amplifiers invented at the ORC.

With a remit spanning global photonics, the ORC has developed a suite of technologies at the cutting edge of global manufacturing, healthcare and commerce. Its fibre lasers are in use world-wide, cutting inch-thick steel, welding cars in state-of-the art factories, performing delicate eye surgery, and even marking the date on the fruit we buy in the supermarket.

The centre, which has licensed over 30 key patents and files 10 patents a year, also has a commitment to developing the photonics leaders of tomorrow. Over 800 of its alumni are in key positions in academia and industry all over the world. A dual-site research partner in NTU, Singapore jointly managed by the ORC has a US$150 million research portfolio

In 2013, the University of Southampton launched the Zepler Institute, the UK’s largest photonics and electronics institute. It has over 350 staff and PhD students and is led by Professor Sir David Payne, the ORC’s founder and director.

Professor Sir David Payne, the ORC’s founder and director, says: “Thanks to long-term backing from EPSRC, the University of Southampton has been a world leader in photonics research for 40 years. EPSRC investment in basic research is now bringing widespread commercial success and keeping the UK at the forefront of innovation.”

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The Optoelectronics Research Centre is developing the next generation of photonic materials. It is at the forefront of the metamaterials revolution, developing artificial electromagnetic media with highly unusual properties and a host of potential applications in areas such as telecommunications, energy, data storage, sensing, security and defence.

The centre is also leading in the development of silicon photonics, which uses light (photons) to move huge amounts of data at very high speeds with extremely low power, and at low cost. This technology is poised to transform devices, circuits and systems that provide high data transmission.

Another strength lies in the ORC’s pivotal role in developing new low-cost photonics technologies for manufacturing. Building on the achievements of its EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Photonics, in 2017 the ORC joined forces with the EPSRC National Centre for III-V Technologies at the University of Sheffield to form the EPSRC Future High Value Photonics Hub; which will provide national leadership in manufacturing for the next generation of photonics technologies.