Ireland is staking a claim as a leader in the emerging photonics sector, believing that a strong knowledge base in the science of generating, manipulating and utilising light will provide the country with a bright future.

Photonics is used in technology from advanced medical devices to smartphones and has been suggested will be as transformative in the 21st century as electronics was in the 20th century.

At this month’s Photonics Ireland 2015 conference in Cork (2-4 September), policymakers and 230 photonics experts from industry and academia agreed to form an Irish Photonics National Technology Platform (NTP), called Photonics Ireland. This will be coordinated by the SFI (Science Foundation Ireland)-funded Irish Photonic Integration Centre (IPIC), which is based in the Tyndall National Institute, one of Europe’s leading ICT research centres.

The €30m IPIC centre, which focuses in innovations in optical communications and biophotonics, is at the core of the photonics knowledge centre in Cork. IPIC also brings together scientists from Cork Institute of Technology’s Centre for Advanced Photonics and Process Analysis, Dublin City University’s Biomedical Diagnostics Institute and Radio and Optical Communications Group, and University College Cork’s Biophysics and Bioanalysis lab, alongside photonics industry partners.

Professor Paul Townsend, chairperson of the Photonics Ireland Conference and director of IPIC, said: “There are over 300,000 people directly employed in the photonics industry in Europe and the global market is currently estimated to be €350bn – leading to huge potential for Ireland’s photonics research and industrial community.” He told Siliconrepublic.com: “Photonics is now another key enabling technology that’s growing after electronics and Ireland has quietly been building up its strength over the last 20 years or so with investments by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and companies starting to come out of universities, so the time is right.”

Photonics Ireland will focus on technology, incubation and training, and producing world-leading research,  with a target of training more than 100 PhD students in photonics over the next five years. It also aims to attract greater investment to photonic start-ups and SMEs. IPIC has set a target of launching two start-up companies every year, and to that end is hosting its first photonics ‘bootcamp’ from November, teaming future photonics entrepreneurs with experienced mentors at Dublin’s NDRC (formerly Ireland’s National Digital Research Centre) and the IPIC management team. An industry-focused survey will aim to identify any gaps in photonics research that Ireland should address in order to be more competitive.

Speaking at the Photonics Ireland 2015 conference, Ireland’s minister for skills, research and innovation Damien English added: “Photonics is one of the globe’s most important future industries and an area in which Ireland can flourish. This platform is a leading example of how Irish research bodies and industry can come together to define a common strategy and identify and execute activities which will drive job creation and develop technologies that will significantly improve all our day-to-day lives.”

 

(via siliconrepublic and optics.org)

IPIC’s deputy director, Dr Peter O’Brien in the photonics packaging lab. Image via Tyndall Institute/IPIC