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UK issues funding call for photonics projects

30 Aug 2010

Call from UK's Technology Strategy Board focuses on enabling technologies and includes numerous optical applications.

The UK's Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has issued a new £18 million competition for funding that covers a broad scope of photonics applications. The call for collaborative research and development opens on October 12, and the deadline for an expression of interest is November 18.

Although not dedicated to photonics alone, according to the UK's Knowledge Transfer Network for Electronics, Sensors and Photonics, the call does cover direct developments in photonics, as well as potential photonics applications such as quality control in biofuel production, food safety, lighting, photovoltaics (PV), industrial lasers and more.

Successful applicants will receive 50 percent public funding from the TSB, which is expecting to invest between £250,000 and £500,000 in each project – although it says that funding outside of this range will be considered. "Projects will normally last two to three years and should deliver a tangible outcome, such as a system or process demonstrator," said the TSB.

One particular technology focus area highlighted within the photonics area is data and image acquisition. The TSB's call for funding explicitly mentions the development of systems based on sensing and imaging capabilities, including sensors and sensor networks.

Budget concerns
With many researchers and SMEs in the UK bracing themselves for significant cuts to central budgets used to fund technology development, the latest TSB competition and a complementary call for funding from the EU (see related story) will come as welcome news.

For its part, the TSB states that the funding calls are central to the UK government's aims to aid economic recovery. "The TSB proposes to stimulate innovation across its key enabling technology areas to help ensure that UK businesses are well-equipped to respond to the challenges presented by the economic downturn and slow recovery," it said.

Although there is widespread concern about impending budget cuts in the UK, the extent of which will become much clearer in October following the government's Comprehensive Spending Review, there is also a growing view that money previously used to fund regional projects may instead be allocated to central efforts such as the TSB, which is viewed as a success in the photonics area.

The new call for funding follows a number of existing TSB-funded photonics projects that have shown good outcomes. These include the NOVELELS project to develop a new LED-based backlighting technology; the HEGAC and SMART projects focused on materials processing applications of fiber lasers; the WHITELASE project to develop a supercontinuum laser source and more.

EU ICT funding boost
Meanwhile, the EU's latest Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) funding call for Information and Communications Technology (ICT), which opens on September 28, includes a significant increase in funding for photonics technology development and applications. €117 million is available through the core photonics technologies stream, with another €50 million available through a call for organic electronics including PV and lighting technologies.

To aid with the success rate of UK-based applications for EU funding, which is typically highly over-subscribed, the SEPNET organization is launching a new service to give its members access to a professional grant writer. Further details are available here.

• The TSB is also set to allocate £2 million funding for next-generation solar energy technologies. The funding is organized in tandem with the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which is issuing a £5 million call for proposals in the same area.

Image credit: iStockphoto

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