Photonics MSc secures funding

December 15, 2000

Heriot-Watt and St Andrews universities have won a £2 million, five-year funding package for a new masters programme for Scotland's booming photonics telecommunications industry.

The MSc in photonics and optoelectronic devices, run jointly by the two institutions, will receive £1 million from the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council for studentships and course development. The balance will come from more than 70 companies involved in the photonics industry, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

The new programme will give students an understanding of the materials from which high-tech components are made, as well as extensive laboratory experience in lasers, optical fibres and other telecoms devices.

The course includes a three-month research project in a company. Alan Miller, head of St Andrews's school of physics and astronomy, said: "It is now well recognised that photonics technology offers the only solution to bottle-necks in present-day communications and internet systems... Pulses of laser light will increasingly replace electrons as the primary means of transmitting voice and data information at ultra high speeds."

Brian Wherrett, chair of theoretical physics at Heriot-Watt, said telecoms was now the third largest sector of the global economy, behind only healthcare and banking. "It is ironic that (as) press reports suggested that 400,000 university students are being trained for less than 100,000 jobs, we secured funding for a specialist course with guaranteed employment prospects that meets just a fraction of the demand from the photonics industry sector."

Professor Wherrett said growth was particularly strong in Scotland, where some 50 opto-electronic companies employ 5,000 people and generate annual sales of £600 million.

Professor Miller said course graduates would be able to choose between a research career, going into an expanding industrial sector or joining one of the many start-up photonics companies.

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