Photonic materials

Synthesis, characterisation and theoretical understanding of materials  and nanostructures that emit or interact with electromagnetic radiation or quasiparticles with similar characteristics (e.g. plasmons or phonons). This research area covers, for example, dielectric and semiconductor materials, metamaterials, plasmonic materials and light-emitting materials. Research based on applications using photonic materials (e.g.optoelectronics and photonics) is covered by other research areas.

In combining the Photonic Materials and Metamaterials and Plasmonics research areas, which developed in line with the published strategy during the previous Delivery Plan period, we aim to consolidate recent growth. We will support community leaders and provide opportunities for researchers in early-career stages through coherent investigator-led research programmes.

Over the current Delivery Plan period, we will:

  • Encourage innovative research, through responsive-mode grants, in all types and applications of Photonic Materials that aim to discover and characterise new materials, understand and control material characteristics, and enable cost-effective manufacturing of Photonic Materials.
  • Place greater emphasis on moving research up the innovation chain and strengthening links to users of the research outputs such as academics in other EPSRC-supported areas (e.g. in Information Communication Technologies (ICT), Engineering, Healthcare Technologies and Manufacturing the Future themes) and industrial users, particularly where these contribute to EPSRC Outcomes.

Across the UK there are several established researchers leading research groups that produce a diverse range of high-quality photonic materials research, featuring internationally leading and globally significant work (Evidence source 1,2). As well as research, we support a number of Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) within this research area. Some of our mid-range facilities (notably the III-IV facility at Sheffield and the SuperSTEM microscopy facility at Daresbury), as well as Diamond Light Source and the Advanced Research Computing High End Resource (ARCHER) supercomputer facility, provide world-leading support to researchers. While we provide funding for much of this, other sources support a significant level of activity.

Although the UK continues to enjoy a pre-eminent position in this area, there is increasing international competition from the USA, China, Germany, Russia, Australia, and Spain (Evidence source 1). The key difference is the breadth of UK strength across a variety of materials and challenges, whereas other countries mostly have strength in specific sub-fields (Evidence source 1).

Photonic Materials in their various forms have a wide variety of applications (e.g. organic optoelectronics, displays, telecommunications, data storage, sensing and energy-efficient lighting) (Evidence source 2,3,4). To achieve their potential in such applications a number of challenges need to be addressed through fundamental research; the UK academic community has the capacity to address these.

Photonic Materials research has naturally close links to the Quantum Technologies research community, including the Quantum Hubs and the European Union Quantum Flagship; significant end-users with a UK base include Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Ltd (Dstl), Intel, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Oclaro, QinetiQ and Seagate. There is also a large base of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK photonics industry (Evidence source 2,4). In terms of the wider materials science community, relationships should be established or strengthened with key science and policy activities such as the Advanced Materials Leadership Council (AMLC) and the Sir Henry Royce Institute.

This area contributes to all EPSRC Outcomes, and the following Ambitions specifically:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

Photonic Materials can underpin a range of technologies in telecommunications, data storage and sensing (among others) provided they can be designed and manufactured at an appropriate scale.

P4: Drive business innovation through digital transformation

Potential improvements in data storage capacity and energy efficiency could be enabled through Photonic Materials, delivering a step-change in the capacity of digital technology.

C1: Enable a competitive, data-driven economy

Greater data storage capacity, particularly at lower energy use, is a key driver in enabling the digital transformation to continue.

C3: Deliver intelligent technologies and systems

Photonic Materials can improve performance in telecommunications, ICT and sensing.

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

Reduced energy use through energy efficient computing and lighting, along with increased performance of ICT and demand for data storage, particularly in the context of big data, will require significant advances in underpinning technologies, including photonic materials

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

Potential improvements in sensing and displays enabled by photonic materials will allow improved diagnosis and treatment

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Photonic Materials (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Abhinav Sharma
Organisation: EPSRC