Canada calling

Share this on social media:

With several vibrant clusters up and running, Canada has its own identity - and nowhere more so than in the photonics industry, as Warren Clark discovers

Photonics in Canada is a significant market, with more than 350 members of the Canadian Photonics Consortium (CPC) alone. The industry there is built on a foundation of strong research. The country's National Research Council leads this research, having backed efforts in WDM technology and short pulse duration lasers, as well as collaborating in the production of the world's first attosecond laser pulse. Indeed, Canada put itself on the photonics map when, in 1992, researchers at the Communications Research Centre Canada (CRC) invented the fibre Bragg grating, which has become a key component in today's optical networks.

There are plenty of organisations supporting and promoting photonics throughout the country. The National Optics Institute is Canada's largest centre of expertise in optics and photonics. Set up in the late 1980s, it has developed applications in fields including aerospace, biomedicine, the environment, forestry, industrial processes, transportation, telecommunications, security and defence.

As well as the CPC, of which more later, there is the Canadian Institute for Photonics Innovation, a nationwide network of around 100 researchers, representing more than 50 companies, 25 universities and 12 government research centres. Provincial and federal government funds to the tune of $43m have also seen the construction of the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre, which opened in 2005. The centre offers fabrication services for opto-electronic and photonic devices.

Other initiatives to advance in the past 12 months have included the Canadian Light Source (CLS) facility. This national synchrotron facility at the University of Saskatchewan has been used to shed light on cadmium's role in the carbon cycle. Under construction just outside Montreal is the Advanced Laser Light Source (ALLS) facility, which will allow researchers from around the world to manipulate matter and probe its dynamics in a way that is not currently possible. The ALLS is working on the development of a multi-beam femtosecond laser system, comprising five synchronised lasers, which will function over a wide range of wavelengths.

Canada has long been a significant player in the photonics market. Back in 2000, when the telecoms boom was at its peak, Canadian-based companies supplied more than 40 per cent of world demand for telecommunications and opto-electronic components. Since then, venture capital investment in the sector has topped $2bn.

The Canadian Photonics Consortium

The CPC is an industry-led association representing the entire Canadian photonics community, including companies, academic institutions and associations, as well as government laboratories and agencies. The 350-strong membership is located within five regional clusters – Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Each cluster is a non-profit network of companies, university research groups, institutes and support organisations formed around specific technological areas of expertise.

Regional clusters in Canada

British Columbia Photonics Industry Association
The British Columbia Photonics Industry Association is a cross-functional industry association representing all aspects of the photonics industry. Members include suppliers, manufacturers and users of photonic and optical tools such as lasers, sensors, lightwave communications systems, spectrometry, imaging tools, robot vision, infrared and visible sources and detectors.
Its goals are: to enhance the economic development of British Columbia and Canada through leadership in photonic technologies; to promote the photonic capabilities of BC industry locally, nationally and worldwide; to educate the public about the job and investment opportunities inherent in photonics; and to assist educational institutions in creating world-class training and research in a range of photonic technologies.

Ontario Photonics Technology Industry Cluster
The Ontario Photonics Technology Industry Cluster (OPTIC) is a community of high-tech companies and organisations working to support the photonics industry in Southern Ontario through: promoting awareness and interactions between members; facilitating strategic alliances, projects and investments; collaborating on marketing members' products, nationally and internationally; being a voice for photonics with government and economic development agencies; and helping to improve educational opportunities in photonics.

Ottawa Photonics Cluster
The Ottawa Photonics Cluster (OPC) provides a collaborative ecosystem that enables its members to meet their strategic goals. By promoting the unique strengths of the region's photonics industry, the cluster enables its members to attract investment and highly qualified personnel and develop the intellectual capital necessary to compete in today's market. The OPC consists of more than 65 member companies representing an innovative products and services portfolio in optoelectronic devices, fibre optics and communications, imaging technologies, lasers, and biophotonics. The OPC works in partnership with stakeholders at all levels including the private sector, educational and research institutions, government and support organisations.

Quebec Photonic Network
The Quebec Photonic Network is a non-profit group whose mandate is to contribute to the advancement of photonics in Quebec by serving as an information hub and providing its members with networking services. It serves as a meeting point for companies, government departments, organisations and concerned individuals involved in the development of the optics-photonics industry in the Greater Quebec area.

Notable achievements

Canadian companies have enjoyed many high-profile photonics successes.

  • Dalsa supplied Nasa with CCD image sensor chips for the Mars Rovers, enabling them to capture the highest-resolution images ever taken of another planet.
  • QLT has led the way in photodynamic therapy drugs for the treatment of various cancers.
  • XYZ RGB has contributed its non-contact 3D scanning technology to films such as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
  • Neptec has supplied every space shuttle in the Nasa fleet with its Space Vision System.