Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Optical devices and subsystems

This research area focuses on the design, modelling, fabrication, processing and evaluation of new or improved devices and systems whose quantum unit is the photon.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This research area focuses on the design, modelling, fabrication, processing and evaluation of new or improved optical devices or systems (planar wave-guide and fibre-based) whose quantum unit is the photon. This includes ultraviolet (UV), visible, infrared (IR), terahertz (THz) and microwave radiation.

This research area includes, for example:

  • the use of optical components such as high-speed sources and all-optical modulators
  • non-linear optical elements
  • gratings
  • photonic band-gap
  • silicon photonics
  • metamaterial device structures.

It also encompasses hybrid integrative technologies to realise higher-level functionality (for example solid-state lasers and fibre lasers, sensors and sensor arrays, and optical subsystems), and application drivers (for example optical computing and data storage, optical communications, manufacturing, security and medical technologies).

The strategy for this research area recognises the high quality of research undertaken in this area, as demonstrated by the existence of leading research groups in the UK, and its impact on both information and communication technologies (ICT) sectors and non-ICT sectors. This research area has an extremely strong overlap with the larger Optoelectronic devices and circuits research area, with researchers often working in both.


Addressing challenges

We want researchers to continue to place an emphasis on taking a systems approach in order to foster more informed design, and to enable the community to continue addressing challenges beyond their own domains.

Working with new materials

We want to maintain a portfolio of research which continues to be informed by work on new materials and basic technology, for example new two dimensional (2D) materials and nanophotonics. We want that research to have closer links to other areas within and beyond ICT through increased cross-disciplinary approaches to research and co-creation of research.

Responding to future priorities

We want researchers to consider how they can respond to future challenges and priorities, for example:

  • the internet of things
  • energy efficient computing
  • contributions to enabling infrastructure.

Supporting UK global manufacturing

Our portfolio should continue to play a pivotal role in high value manufacturing through its work on laser research, because  this supports the UK to compete on the global manufacturing stage. Future activities around this research area should be conducted in a way that maximises the benefits in this field.

Supporting researchers

We want to maintain a substantial research area which includes a mixture of projects and programmes ranging in scale and scope. They should foster a healthy balance between support for earlier and for more established researchers.

Why we're doing it

There is much high quality research being undertaken in this area, with world-leading UK capability in terahertz (THz) photonics, where there are security and medical applications – for example, imaging. Collaborations at both national and international level are numerous, particularly with the EU and the US. The collaborations also support the fact that the impact of this research is relevant both to traditional information and communication technologies (ICT) sectors (for example communications, electronics) and non-ICT sectors (for example healthcare, manufacturing, energy and defence).

This research area includes a community supported by a number of longer, larger grants. This balance of funding has contributed to the UK’s international standing in this area and provides sufficient capacity. But we need to ensure this approach does not compromise this research area’s long-term health by limiting expertise to a few major research efforts, or by narrowing the opportunities available to the next generation of research leaders.

Bringing together a multidisciplinary team of leading UK researchers and key industry partners enhances the potential impact of this research area on the current or future success of the UK economy. This has led to our strategic focus on increased co-creation of research, as supported by the EPSRC Cross-disciplinarity and co-creation cross-ICT priority.

Find out more about the Cross-disciplinarity and co-creation cross-ICT priority in the Information and communication technologies theme.

Equipment infrastructure

This research area relies on an extensive equipment infrastructure, from individual pieces of kit through to mid-range facilities such as the National Centre for III-V Technologies. Innovate UK’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult also provides a way for the UK research base to engage with business effectively and to help drive economic growth.

Laser research in this area is also supported by the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes, which benefits from 31 industrial partners spanning the complete value chain for laser-based production processes.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for optical devices and subsystems.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Last updated: 20 September 2023

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