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£2 million funding for telecommunications degree

A £2 million, five year funding package has been awarded to the Universities of St Andrews and Heriot-Watt to develop a new Masters degree aimed at meeting the needs of Scotland’s booming photonics telecommunications industry.

The MSc in Photonics and Optoelectronic Devices, to be run jointly by the two institutions, will receive £1 million from the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) for studentships and course development, with the rest funded by the photonics industry, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC).

The optoelectronics industry is especially strong in Scotland where around 50 companies currently employ 5,000 people and generate annual sales of £600 million, 60% of which is exported. Scottish Enterprise has set up a steering group aimed at creating a world-class optoelectronics cluster in Scotland which will hopefully lead to special consideration being given to the infrastructure required for both research and development activities, including provision of suitably trained professional scientists. They are focussing on areas such as laser manufacture, optical communications sub- systems, optical device manufacture, and optical packaging.

Professor Alan Miller, Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews believes the new course is an outstanding opportunity for students wishing to train in an area expected to sustained a high rate of growth over the next decade – “It is now well recognised that photonics technology offers the only solution to bottlenecks in present- day communications and internet systems. As communications continue to expand rapidly, driven by e-commerce, tele-conferencing and new services such as video-on- demand, pulses of laser light will increasingly replace electrons as the primary means of transmitting voice and data information at ultra high speeds, whether the connection is between countries, cities or even within our own homes. Students graduating from this course will be able to choose between pursuing a research career in lasers and related devices, entering an expanding industrial sector involving component development through to optical networks or taking a more entrepreneurial path by joining one of the many new start-up companies in photonics in Scotland and other parts of the UK. In funding this new postgraduate degree, the EPSRC has shown foresight in recognising the large shortfall in trained scientist and engineers in this rapidly expanding photonics sector worldwide.”

Meanwhile, Professor Brian Wherrett, Chair of Theoretical Physics at Heriot-Watt stressed the importance of the new Masters course in the high growth telecommunications sector with its high recruitment demands – “Major advances in telecommunications and, in particular, the explosive growth of internet usage for multi- media dissemination, communication and e-commerce are founded upon photonics. Telecoms is now the third largest sector of the global economy, behind only healthcare and banking. The Semiconductor Industry Association has also now recognised that the only way to satisfy future demands in information-processing bandwidth lies in the exploitation of hybrid opto-electronics. The UK Coalition for Photonics and Optics was set up to mirror the USA CPO which has identified optics as a critical enabler of technology in many industries and is particularly concerned about the serious recruitment shortfall in photonics scientists and technologists.”

Further details –

 The new MSc provides an understanding of the materials from which high-tech components are fabricated as well as extensive laboratory experience in lasers, optical fibres and other telecoms devices. Over 70 companies have provided support for the new MSc, which includes a three month research project in an industrial company.

 The two universities are well positioned to provide high quality relevant training. Between them, the two departments have over 30 academic staff with photonics research interests, currently bringing in several million pounds of research funding per annum. There are four major collaborative centres involving both academia and industry: the Ultrafast Photonics Collaboration; the Photonics Innovation Centre; the Centre for Integrated Optoelectronic Systems; and the programme on Lasers in Manufacturing. Spin-off companies from the departments include “Terahertz Photonics Limited”, launched in September by academics from Heriot-Watt, with £3 million of start-up venture capital funding and targeting components for future telecoms systems.  The MSc in Photonics and Optoelectronic Devices is a revision of an MSc previously run jointly by Heriot-Watt and St Andrews under the title “Optoelectronic and Laser Devices”. This trained over 300 graduates over the last twenty years, the majority of whom have taken employment in the photonics sector. As a consequence of the new funding, the universities are able to offer full fees plus a stipend exceeding £7,000 for eligible students accepted onto the course.

 The course involves periods at St Andrews, Heriot-Watt and a three-month research project in one of 50+ UK photonics companies. The course topics are: Laser Physics, Modern Optics, Photonic Materials, Optoelectronic Devices, Technical Communication and Business Awareness with extensive practical experience gained in state-of-art dedicated laboratories.

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITORS – For more information, please contact Professor Alan Miller at the University of St Andrews on telephone (01334 463122) or email am8@st-andrews.ac.uk.

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email cg24@st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: photonicsmasters/standrews/chg/5dec 2000

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