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SEPNET re-launches after seven-year break

The inaugural seminar of SEPNET, the South East Photonics Network, was hosted in fine style on 1 May at QinetiQ's Farnborough facility. Chaired by Prof David Payne, director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton, SEPNET, which has been in existence since 1999 but had lain dormant since 2001, aims to gather together the collective knowledge of the region to increase awareness and add value to the local photonics industry. The South East of England is home to in excess of 200 photonics companies, a concentration that Payne believes is the highest in Europe, and which SEPNET hopes to tap into.

Presentations from Dolores Byrne and Chris Pickering of QinetiQ, the defence and security technology company privatised from the Ministry of Defence in 2001, detailed the wealth of innovations that have come to light as a result of QinetiQ's work and its current activities in the area of photonics. Operating out of QinetiQ's Malvern site, Pickering ran through some of the photonics-based projects, including the work carried out on hollow silicon waveguide technology, an optical equivalent to the electronic printed circuit board, where light is guided along a silicon chip.

Mike Biddle from the UK Technology Strategy Board, an executive non-departmental public body that aims to stimulate technology-enabled innovation to boost UK growth and productivity, focused on the approaches to increase wealth through innovations in photonics.

Biddle emphasised the importance of companies and research institutes working together, right across the Electronics, Photonics and Electrical Systems (EPES) sector, suggesting that no single discipline is more important than any other in generating wealth for the country. His message was that it's in partnerships between organisations that new innovations in photonics will find a use in the wider world. Knowledge Transfer Networks, such as SEPNET, are key in facilitating this pooling of knowledge and ideas.

Bob Musk from the Washington-based Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA) outlined the global forecast for photonics and optoelectronics. Musk predicts that lifestyle factors will drive the development of various technologies, including displays, where OLEDs look set to increase. He forecasts that bandwidth speeds in the US would have to increase from 40Gb/s to 100Gb/s to keep up with demand. Renewable photonics is also expected to be a strong growth area, with solid state lighting and photovoltaics playing a key role.

The meeting was brought to a close by a presentation from Prof David Payne, focusing on some of the latest developments and work carried out at the ORC, ranging from, as he described it, 'nano to megaphotonics'. One project he touched upon was the use of microstructured optical fibres, or 'holey fibres', in the European Space Agency’s space-based Darwin mission to directly detect extrasolar Earth-like planets.

The next meeting of SEPNET is planned for 17 July at Agilent's facility in Reading, and the revived network hopes to meet quarterly thereafter.

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