Marconi Fellow Sir David N. Payne Receives Esteemed Royal Award on Behalf of the University of Southampton

Professor Sir David Payne, Chairman Emeritus of the Marconi Society and Director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), received the highly-prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education on behalf of the University of Southampton in recognition of its world-leading expertise in photonics and fibre optic technology.

The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes are the UK’s most prestigious form of recognition for a UK academic or vocational institution, with approval directly from The Queen and Parliament. A delegation from the University, led by Sir David, travelled to Buckingham Palace in February this year to formally receive the prize presented by HRH Prince Charles and Southampton Honorary Graduate HRH the Duchess of Cornwall.

Also representing the University at the Palace were Rear Admiral Philip Greenish, Vice Chair of Council, Research Fellow Dr Katrina Morgan, and ORC PhD researchers Andrea Ravagli, Alex Jantzen, Angeles Camacho and Ausra Cerkauskaite.

The Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Southampton recognises the many decades of inspired innovation by the ORC which has led to breakthroughs in optical fibres, laser manufacturing, next generation computing and new optical materials that power the internet, feed mobile telephone networks and help make life-saving devices that transform our daily lives.

The ORC is the largest and longest established centre of its kind in the UK with a vibrant community of over 200 staff and postgraduate students working on cutting-edge research in photonics to provide solutions for real-life problems.

As well as its extensive links with companies and universities around the world, the Centre – which leads a new national manufacturing hub for the UK – has also been responsible for developing a major research and commercial nucleus within Southampton and the surrounding area with at least 10 companies ‘spinning out’ to provide employment and inward investment to the region.

The ORC is also renowned for its wide range of outreach activities with schools and colleges, which encourage more students to study physics whilst engaging them in research, and promotes wider careers within physics and engineering.

Professor Sir David Payne, said: “Being honoured with this prestigious award is recognition of just how important photonics is to the UK and the extensive role the University of Southampton has played in leading photonics research since the 1960s.”

Sir David, who was knighted in 2013 for his work in photonics research and applications development, explained the legacy of the ORC. “Over fifty years ago the ORC received global recognition for developing one of the world’s first ultra-low loss optical fibres. Today, our specialty optical fibre inventions navigate airliners, cut steel and can be found on the moon, Mars and the International Space Station,” he continued. “These special fibres are capable not just of carrying internet data, but have many different applications such as in gyroscopes, high-powered lasers, and perhaps one day even propelling spacecraft through the universe.”

Sir David is now keen for his colleagues to continue pushing back the boundaries of research and commercial application. “The next big challenge in photonics is how we make everything smaller, more complex, more functional, and cheaper,” he concludes. “This requires the development of new materials which don’t exist in the natural world, such as metamaterials and silicon itself for the development of tiny silicon optical chips. There is in prospect a new generation of hollow fibres which can carry even more data, at far greater speeds, so the world can realise the capabilities of 5G and beyond.”

This award marks the third time the University of Southampton has received recognition via the Queen’s Anniversary Prizes.