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Optical fibre inventors get more government money

Ian Grant

Southampton University, which has invented some of the key optical fibre technologies that now enable the internet, is one of three research and development centres to receive new government money to further its work.

Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) will receive £4.7m over five years. Thirteen industrial partners will contribute a further £4.6m, the government said.

The other centres are Loughborough, for its work on regenerative medicine to enable damaged, diseased or defective tissues to work normally again, and Brunel for its work on the reuse and recycling of metal.

The announcement is part of a £70m investment this year in research to support UK manufacturing.

David Payne, director of the ORC, said the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) had supported the centre for 40 years. "It has made a huge impact on areas as diverse as the internet, laser manufacturing, environmental sensing and the biosciences," he said.

In 1987, Payne and his team developed the erbium-doped optical amplifier, a key device for internet expansion as it allows the transmission of vast amounts of data via fibre networks.

Twenty years later, researchers from the ORC's planar optical materials and silica fibre fabrication groups developed and patented the 'flat fibre' - a pioneering optical fibre with greater versatility.

The centre has also spun off a number of specialist manufacturing companies that have earned tens of millions of pounds in exports.

Payne himself is a Marconi prize winner, along with the World Wide Web's Tim Berners-Lee and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Southampton's vice-chancellor, Don Nutbeam, said, "The technology that drives the internet was developed here at Southampton. Every time you use a mobile phone or an ATM you are using technology developed at Southampton."

Photo: flakeparadigm/flickr


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