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Funding supports plan to triple photonics sector

Fibre optics
Fibre optics is a growth sector (pic: Lars Kienle)

A funding deal has been secured to help Scotland triple the size of its light technology sector – known as photonics – which lies behind fibre optic cables and lasers used in communications and medical surgery.

A consortium formed by the universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde, Heriot-Watt and St Andrews is one of ten UK clusters that will share £41m to pool research.

The Scottish consortium will receive £4.7m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UKRI.

Photonics – the science of light – is central to many modern technologies, from the fibre-optic cables which carry internet data to the lasers which treat cancers and enable the fabrication of integrated circuits. Developments in photonics help spur advances in sectors including electronics, communications, medicine and the life sciences.

The UK’s photonics industry currently has a turnover of £14.5bn and employs 77,000 people – more than twice as many as the pharmaceutical industry. More than £1bn of that turnover is created in Scotland’s central belt, which is widely recognised as a world leader in academic and industrial expertise in photonics.

Together, researchers at the consortium’s four partner universities account for £95m in funding in photonics and quantum technologies, a quarter of the UK’s total funding in the sector. 

Technology Scotland, one of the partners in the consortium, has set a target for the entire sector in the central belt to match that 25% market share by 2030, from the 7% it currently holds.

The new consortium seeks to build on decades of successes in photonics research and development across the central belt to help achieve the area’s full potential for economic and social benefits.

Over the next four years, the partners will work with the companies in Central Scotland to accelerate the transfer of photonics research from the laboratory to tomorrow’s photonics products – working with existing companies and encouraging the foundation of startups.

They will also help to grow the base of skilled workers to ensure that the sector is not constrained by the limited availability of staff trained in photonics technologies, and work on outreach projects to raise awareness of the opportunities available in photonics careers and entrepreneurship.

The UK Government has also announced £1bn of support for quantum and photonics technologies, with £2.5bn more to follow in the years to come.

Professor Andy Harvey, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics & Astronomy, is the consortium’s principal investigator. He said: “This funding will help unlock further advances in the sector across central Scotland by creating new jobs, building new skills, attracting investment in new and existing companies, and inspiring people to take up careers in the sector.”

In addition to the four universities, the consortium is also supported by Glasgow City Council, Scottish Enterprise, CENSIS, City of Edinburgh Council, Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd, Fife Council, Glasgow Science Centre Ltd, National Physical Laboratory, SPIE, Technology Scotland and West Lothian Council.

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