Photonics for future systems

What was the priority?

The Photonics for Future Systems priority encourages applicants to consider, at all stages of their research, the system into which photonic devices and/or materials will be incorporated.

This priority provided an opportunity for researchers to think beyond their own discipline and consider factors which they may not otherwise have thought of.

This priority stemmed from the fact that technology associated with the main disciplines within ICT (communications, computer science, electronics, photonics and user-interface technologies) is increasingly converging as all aspects of data input, information processing and transmission become embodied in systems. In order for research into photonic devices to achieve maximum impact in these areas, it must therefore be based on an appreciation of these systems.

EPSRC recognise that the meaning and understanding of the word system varies from community to community, and this is to be expected. What one researcher considers to be a system may be considered by others to be a device. For simplicity we described a system as an integrated collection of components and/or functions which work together to achieve a common purpose and deliver a higher goal than the individual components are capable of doing. A systems approach can be thought of as the design and realisation of these components in the system, rather than in isolation. The level of abstraction to which this is appropriate will differ across the portfolio, but this priority encourages researchers at least to reflect on it.

The desired outcome of this priority is for UK funded research in photonics to have increased impact as a result of taking the opportunity of increasing systems level integration.

Implementation of the Priority

The priority was introduced in 2011 following a series of discussions in 2009-10 which highlighted the need for ICT researchers to give more attention towards a systems approach for photonic devices.

This priority was of immediate relevance to existing photonics researchers, with all applicants in this area encouraged to consider this priority when formulating research projects. However, it also linked to researchers in other disciplines, depending on the nature of the systems approach they are taking.

A workshop was held in February 2015 in order to increase awareness and understanding of the priority, particularly amongst early career researchers, and expand on previously identified research challenges for which a systems approach is needed. The outcomes of this workshop (see report linked below) have informed EPSRC's future strategy for photonic systems, and highlighted the contribution photonic systems can make in areas including Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Big Data Analytics, Internet of Things, Future intelligent Systems, and Quantum Technologies.

Outcomes of the Priority

Over half of the projects in EPSRC's photonics portfolio now reflect the Photonics for Future Systems priority in some way; a proportion which has grown to this level since this priority was introduced. This distribution indicates a balance between projects focused at the fundamentals of photonics and those which explore the development and validation of usable devices and components. We have seen increasing collaboration across the portfolio to achieve this, with a number of large and programme grants bridging disciplinary and technological boundaries.