Tripping the light fantastic

Thursday 4 October 2001

A new degree aimed at meeting the needs of tomorrow’s engineering industry has been created by the Universities of Dundee and St Andrews.

In a joint venture under the Promoting Partnership initiative, the Universities are collaborating to offer an honours degree in Microelectronics and Photonics, widely believed to be the key areas for progress in engineering over the next 50 years. The degree will be awarded either as a BEng Honours or a MEng Honours, depending on the length of study.

The courses, to be introduced in September 2002, combine Dundee’s expertise in microelectronics and St Andrews’ speciality in photonics and have already attracted widespread praise from Scottish industry.

Microelectronics, which is changing the face of electronic engineering, is based on tiny and versatile electronic devices used in the reception and transmission of information. They play a key role in everything from phones and computers to medicine, transport and even nuclear power stations. In its Faculty of Science and Engineering, the University of Dundee offers honours degrees in Electronic and Electrical Engineering and, in Physics, and there are excellent laboratory facilities for student teaching and research. The Microelectronics and Photonics degrees draw upon these areas of expertise.

Meanwhile, the invention of the laser and the subsequent advances in the amplification, detection and transmission of light radiation have given rise to the new subject of photonics. The future will bring better lasers, new techniques and materials which can process light energy in a similar way to the action of semiconductors upon electrical energy. We can look forward to the design and introduction of photonic superchips. There will be also more use of laser radiation in the cutting and shaping of materials to make micro- engineering devices. These two vital specialities are already at the heart of much of modern industry, communications, entertainment, transport, metrology information technology, healthcare, imaging, etc. The University of St Andrews School of Physics and Astronomy, as well as offering honours degrees in physics and astronomy, runs a well- established postgraduate MSc course in Photonics and Optoelectronics in conjunction with Heriot-Watt University and has a first class reputation for its research in photonics.

The new degrees on offer are either a four-year BEng honours degree or a five-year MEng honours degree. In each case, the duration can be reduced for sufficiently well qualified students. With good results at school level or equivalent, entry can be offered directly into the second year. With good HND results or equivalent, entry directly into the third year is possible. Enquiries about direct entry from overseas applicants are welcomed. A number of bursaries worth £2000 are available to students who are accepted on the course. Details of how to apply will be sent to all students offered a place.

In the early years of the course, students study the basics of physics, mathematics and electronics. This lays a good foundation for more specialised courses in microelectronics and photonics in the later years. The lecture courses and practical work are based on credit modules with 120 credits corresponding to a completed year of study. A total of 480 credits are required for the award of honours BEng and 600 for honours MEng. Each year of the degree consists of about 24 weeks of teaching plus about six weeks of revision and assessment. There are lectures and tutorials in all years, laboratory classes in years one to three, and practical project work in years four and five.

Staff at both sites are happy to communicate with potential students. At Dundee, please contact Professor Fitzgerald at email [email protected] and, at St Andrews, Dr Bruce Sinclair at email b.d.sinclair@st- All home students for the coming session should apply to St Andrews.



The thinking behind the courses has already attracted praise from business and industry leaders.

Dr T M Christmas, Head of Optoelectronics Cluster Team at Scottish Enterprise said, “In Scottish Enterprise we believe that the future economy of Scotland and the rest of the world will be strongly influenced by the new technologies of microelectronics and photonics. Hence it is a significant pleasure to endorse the new degrees of microelectronics and photonics being offered by the universities of Dundee and St Andrews. Both universities enjoy enviable global reputations for teaching and research in optoelectronics and so I am confident that students graduating from this course will have enjoyable and prosperous careers.”

Meanwhile, Allan D L James, Founder and Joint Managing Director of Semefab (Scotland) Limited said, “This Company was established in 1986 in the heartland of the British semiconductor industry. During the last five years there has been an explosion of interest in exploiting both the optical and the mechanical properties of semiconductors. This has resulted in new products which are important contributors to our revenue alongside our more conventional silicon chips. I am delighted to endorse the new degrees in Microelectronics and Photonics at the Universities of Dundee and St Andrews. I believe they will continue the fine tradition of academia, engineering excellence and entrepreneurship upon which the Scottish microelectronics industry has been based and the addition of the Photonics dimension will definitely assist competitiveness in the global marketplace. ”

Dr Robin Thompson, Process Engineering Manager Semiconductor Business Unit of Raytheon Systems Limited said, “There is a growing need for well-qualified graduates in the microelectronics industry, which has been a major employer of such people for many years. Ideal candidates possess an understanding of both the physics of semiconductor materials and devices and of the electronic engineering applications that the technology makes possible. Recently, this industry has been joined by the optoelectronics industry, presenting the opportunity for an expansion into new application areas involving new devices. The new BEng and MEng degrees in Microelectronics and Photonics now being offered by the Universities of Dundee and St Andrews directly address the needs in both areas. I am sure they will lead to exciting and rewarding career prospects and I am delighted to endorse them.”

The two universities formally announced the Promoting Partnership initiative in December 2000 after receiving a strategic change grant of over £300,000 from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. The partnership will help the institutions expand both teaching and research in important emerging areas, experiment with innovation, build relationships with the private sector and significantly contribute to the social and economic well-being of Scotland.

Further information can be obtained from Claire Grainger, Press Officer, University of St Andrews on telephone (01334) 462530 or mobile 07730 415 015; or Carol Pope, Press Officer, University of Dundee on telephone (01382) 345108.

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