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ICFO sees rapid expansion of Spain's photonics industry

07 Mar 2008

The Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona is undergoing a significant expansion. Silvia Carrasco explains what ICFO can offer companies and gives a snapshot of Spain's thriving photonics industry.

Having launched in March 2002, the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona, Spain, will soon house more than 300 researchers in 45 fully equipped laboratories over an area of some 9000 m2. As well as providing a hub for research and education into both basic and applied optics, ICFO has an eye on economic development. The person in charge of promoting this activity is Silvia Carrasco, ICFO's director of knowledge and technology transfer.

What are the key missions of ICFO?
ICFO's mission is three-fold: frontier research, education at the postgraduate level and technology transfer. In research, we are conducting cutting-edge studies into several areas of photonics. In education, our PhD degrees are focused on photonics and attract top international students. In economic development, we are pro-active in establishing partnerships with industrial corporations.

ICFOnians moved into a dedicated building in the winter of 2005 and we are in a privileged position: the Mediterranean Technology Park in Barcelona's metropolitan area. We believe that the balance of having all three activities under one roof is what provides the best scenario for our PhD students to grow, and for companies and partners to get the best from us. ICFO's expansion will allow us to reach the critical mass needed to meet our mission optimally, especially in relation to industrial partnerships.

What are ICFO's core competencies?
At ICFO we understand light as a tool: an important enabling tool for today and an even more important tool for tomorrow. We conduct wide-ranging research into many areas of photonics, but have a special focus on quantum information technologies, nanophotonic devices, optical sensors, ultrafast optics, optoelectronics, integrated optics and biophotonics/biomedical optics.

We plan to broaden and complete our scope with a few new areas. In particular, we will reinforce the existing areas by adding facilities. One of the areas that will expand significantly is biophotonics, with the launch of a unit dedicated to biomedical optics, partially endowed by a substantial donation from the Cellex Foundation.

What does your role involve?
My role is to facilitate the relationships between ICFOnians and all types of industries and corporations. My job is to create opportunities. This could be opportunities that connect ICFOnians with external partners, opportunities that develop our technological portfolio or opportunities that allow us to fulfil the business needs of our industrial allies. My role is devoted to building mutual knowledge and trust between ICFO and all types of industrial colleagues and partners.

Can you give me some examples of ICFO's commercial activities?
We are particularly active in patenting different types of optical sensors and our patent portfolio includes innovations in microscopy, plasmonics and sensors for hostile environments, to name a few. We are currently negotiating a licence agreement for a uniquely robust fibre-optic sensor that our researchers invented.

Radiantis, a company that spun-out of ICFO a couple of years ago, is commercializing optical parametric oscillators and frequency-conversion devices. The systems offered by Radiantis address difficult spectral regions from the ultraviolet to the mid-infrared and cover continuous-wave to ultrafast femtosecond temporal domains. The Radiantis team is led by ICFO's Prof. Majid Ebrahim-Zadeh.

What is ICFO's Corporate Liaison Program?
One key aspect of my role is to build trust between the ICFO and local and international corporations with whom we may team up to co-develop technology. Here, the expertise of our senior researchers and PhD students becomes a unique asset.

Our Corporate Liaison Program is the instrument that we use to establish this initial connection. We do not limit ourselves to a specific model for technology transfer. Our aim with companies is to achieve common goals, so we have to be flexible. We set a customized action plan with each member of the program to maximize mutual benefits. ICFO is an outstanding partner through which to establish collaborations with Spanish photonics companies.

What is your view of the photonics industry in Spain?
Several industrial sectors related to photonics are growing in Spain. One example is biotechnology, a market where the regional government is focusing resources and initiatives in the Barcelona metropolitan area. Another example is clean technologies, including solar. Spain's potential in this area is enormous, as is reflected by the current investments.

The number of photonics companies based in Spain is rising, especially spin-offs and medium-sized enterprises. An example of a medium-size company is Monocrom, which specializes in custom laser systems. There are also large corporations, like Isofoton, a leader in the solar sector. Several companies are opening new premises in Spain such as French-headquartered Imagine Optic, a leading supplier of Shack-Hartmann wavefront technology.

Research in photonics in Spain is growing in different parts of the country, in particular in groups located in Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza and Cantabria. Our colleagues in Madrid and Valencia have world-class capabilities in silicon photonics. The government has also recently announced a new laser centre in Salamanca, which will specialize in ultra-intense lasers and their industrial applications.

• This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Optics & Laser Europe magazine.

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