Southampton shines as leading light in photonics industry

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University of Southampton

University of Southampton

Decades of EPSRC support for pioneering work at the University of Southampton has been vital to drive a thriving photonics cluster in and around the city: a cluster crucial to the UK’s ability to punch above its weight in this here-and-now yet firmly future-focused sector.

With world-shaping inventions, game-changing technologies, skills and facilities envied globally, Southampton is at the heart of an inspirational but surprisingly little-known UK success story: the emergence of a bold, buoyant industry at the cutting edge of the science of light.

Southampton’s success is key to the growth of the UK’s £13.5 billion photonics industry. Over 1500 jobs have already been created by the cluster, which comprises over 50 companies. The Southampton cluster includes 10 businesses at the vanguard of photonics innovation, and the university’s Zepler Institute is an established powerhouse in photonics research

The rise of a globally renowned, fast-growing photonics industry is a UK success story half a century in the making. Best defined simply as the science of light, photonics has delivered transformational technologies that fundamentally underpin countless facets of modern life and the ability to generate growth and prosperity.

At the epicentre of the UK industry, which has already created thousands of high-value jobs and boosted sustainable economic growth in many parts of the country, is the University of Southampton and a vibrant, closely knit cluster of spinouts and other local companies relentlessly turning pioneering science into commercial reality.

Southampton has delivered technologies such as fibre optics which underpin the internet and fibre lasers used in eye surgery, and is pioneering next-generation technologies such as silicon photonics, which will revolutionise everything from data centres to driverless vehicles.

The origin and engine of much of the innovative, inventive work and world-leading achievement in photonics that bears the hallmark ‘made in Southampton’ is the university’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), established in 1989 and now part of the Zepler Institute.

The ORC’s success has, in turn, been made possible by a non-stop suite of both long-term, strategic and shorter-term, more specific support from EPSRC dating back to the 1980s, with initial EPSRC support for the university’s emerging photonics expertise beginning a decade earlier.

“We have a fearless determination to innovate, experiment and question convention,” says Professor Sir David Payne, Director of the university’s Zepler Institute. “But this would have been unimaginable without EPSRC support, whose targeting and timing have been vital to our ability to create and seize opportunities.”

This substantial, secure but dynamic funding platform has helped establish the city of Southampton as a leading light in photonics from a national and international perspective, attracting interest, investment and the best scientific talent to the region from across the globe – all of which adds up to both a brilliant past and a very bright future.