70th symposium honours fibre optics pioneer

Professor Sir David Payne, Principal Investigator for the Photonics Hyperhighway (PHH) programme and whose contributions to optical fibre technology formed the backbone of the Internet and telecommunications networks, has been honoured for his 70th birthday with a special symposium at the University of Southampton.

Academic colleagues from Southampton and around the UK, along with key industrial partners, attended the symposium and celebratory reception.

The event recognised Sir David’s research and entrepreneurial achievements and featured an afternoon of talks from invited speakers drawn from his friends, colleagues and collaborators.

Sir David, Director of the University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) and Zepler Institute, is credited with an astonishing number of key discoveries, including the world’s first practical optical fibre amplifier – the Erbium-Doped Fibre Amplifier (EDFA). This crucial component, developed in 1987, forms the backbone of the Internet and made possible its explosive growth through an ability to transmit and amplify vast amounts of data.

Among the invited speakers at the symposium were Professor David Hanna who founded the ORC with Sir David, Professor Emmanuel Desurvire who was involved in pioneering the EDFA and Professor Roy Taylor a fellow pioneer of fibre lasers. Talks were also given by Dr Chris Emslie, Dr Steve Norman and Dr David Parker who are, or have been, connected with a number of the ORC’s spin-out companies; and by Sir David’s current colleagues Dr Bill Brocklesby and Professor David Richardson.

Professor Richardson, ORC Deputy Director and Co-Investigator for the PHH programme, commented: “David has spent more than 50 years working on photonics at the University of Southampton. His 70th birthday has provided a great excuse to get together with many of the colleagues and friends that he has made over the years both to celebrate his many achievements and to gain insight into the history of some of the most significant. I hope the event will inspire our current cohort of staff and students and, who knows, it may ultimately lead to a future generation of research engineers and entrepreneurs in the mould of Sir David.”

Sir David is an international researcher who has spent his entire career with the University. His work in fibre fabrication in the 1970s resulted in most of the special fibres used today. Fibres invented and made in Southampton are on the Moon and Mars, while Sir David’s ideas navigate airliners, cut steel, mark smart phones, manufacture life-saving medical devices and help defend our nation.

As a leading University entrepreneur his activities have led to a photonics cluster of nine companies surrounding the ORC, creating jobs and wealth in the Southampton region. With colleagues he founded SPI Lasers Plc, a leading supplier of high-power fibre lasers located in Hampshire.

His current research focuses on high-power industrial fibre lasers for cutting, welding and marking as an alternative to conventional lasers.