UK silicon photonics research gets £4.8m boost

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The UK’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton is set to receive £4.8 million to support the centre’s silicon photonics research.

The funding will be used to investigate how silicon photonics technology can be used to improve data centre communication networks and support a new integrated photonics platform for broader mass market applications.

The money will come from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Rockley Photonics, a UK specialist in integrated technology and systems for next-generation networks. In addition to providing financial support, Rockley Photonics will form a ‘Prosperity Partnership’ with the centre, allowing the two organisations to combine resources.

Dr Andrew Rickman, founder, CEO and chairman of Rockley Photonics, commented: ‘Rockley Photonics and The University of Southampton team has a long-standing history of working together. Our partnership… demonstrates the value of relationships between academia and commercial enterprises such as ours. It gives us the ability to combine resources and academic excellence and focus on ground-breaking, early-stage technologies, such as silicon photonics.

‘Research in to this area is progressing quickly, and in the very near future, this game-changing, disruptive technology will soon have a huge impact on the future architecture design of large data centres; improve the power and compute capacity of new consumer devices and provide robust sensing solutions in a variety of industry sectors, such autonomous vehicles and biomedical. All this at dramatically lower cost and with considerably less power requirements.’

Data centres are currently consuming about three per cent of the global electricity supply – 416.2 terawatt hours last year. That is more than the total consumption of many individual European countries including the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Poland and the United Kingdom.

Silicon photonics is seen as one of the key technologies in the deployment of energy efficient solutions for large data centres, as well as applications in high performance computing.
Graham Reed, Professor of Silicon Photonics at Southampton, commented: ‘At Southampton, our expertise and facilities offer a unique environment for silicon photonics research and innovation. One of the world’s most pressing problems is how to handle our relentless desire for more data and we are striving to make significant improvements.’

An official announcement about this partnership, and additional projects involving 10 universities and businesses operating in key areas of innovation, will be made today at 18:00 (Thursday 13th July) by Jo Johnson, minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation at a special event at BT’s headquarters in London.

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