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UK’s Cornerstone announces mission to transform silicon photonics

19 Feb 2024

ORC and Bristol to lead new Innovation and Knowledge Centers to take tech from labs to “everyday life”.

The Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton, UK, has been chosen to spearhead one of the two newly established Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKC), alongside another center situated at the University of Bristol. Their stated mission: “to transform silicon photonics.”

Funding for the IKCs has come from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Innovate UK, both part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The two centers will bring new semiconductor chip technologies into the market. Semiconductors power electrical items worldwide, from mobiles and computers to healthcare equipment, transportation systems, and clean energy technology, but are also the mainstay of many aspects of photonics technologies.

Led by Professor Graham Reed at the University of Southampton, in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the CORNERSTONE Photonics Innovation Centre (C-PIC) will receive £11 million ($14 million) to improve the development and commercialisation of silicon photonics technologies.

Emerging technology

Silicon, being the most commonly used material in semiconductor electronics, underpins the emerging technology of silicon photonics, holding the potential to transform every aspect of our lives. It is already integral to photonics devices including communications systems in data centres that underpin the internet, and other emerging applications that offer the UK significant commercialisation opportunities, ranging from healthcare and environmental sensing, to imaging and AI as well as many more. Professor Callum Littlejohns, CORNERSTONE Coordinator, commented: “Our vision is to take silicon photonics from research labs to everyday life.”

C-PIC will focus on the university’s specialism in silicon photonics, an approach to semiconductors that uses light waves instead of electrical currents to transfer information.

Discussing the future of C-PIC, Graham explained: “The CORNERSTONE centre will unite leading UK entrepreneurs and researchers, together with a network of support to improve the commercialisation of semiconductors and deliver a step-change in the silicon photonics industry.”

The funding package comes as part of the UK’s semiconductor strategy, which was published last year and promises £1bn over 10 years. Following the announcement of the IKC grant, Saqib Bhatti, the Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy, paid a visit to the University of Southampton.

During his tour of the Zepler Cleanrooms, he expressed his thoughts, stating: “This investment marks a crucial step in advancing our ambitions for the semiconductor industry, with these centres helping bring new technologies to market in areas like net zero and AI, rooting them right here in the UK.”

He added: “This isn’t just about fostering growth and creating high-skilled jobs, it’s about positioning the UK as a hub of global innovation, setting the stage for breakthroughs that have worldwide impact.”

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