Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Photonic materials

This research area covers the synthesis, characterisation and theoretical understanding of materials and nanostructures that emit or interact with electromagnetic radiation or quasiparticles with similar characteristics.

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

The scope and what we're doing

This research area covers the synthesis, characterisation and theoretical understanding of materials and nanostructures that emit or interact with electromagnetic radiation or quasiparticles with similar characteristics for example plasmons or phonons.

It covers, for example:

  • dielectric and semiconductor materials
  • metamaterials
  • plasmonic materials
  • light-emitting materials.

Research based on applications using photonic materials, for example optoelectronics and photonics, is covered by other research areas.

This research area was established by combining two previous research areas, Photonic Materials and Metamaterials, and Plasmonics.

We aim to  support research community leaders and provide opportunities for researchers in early-career stages through coherent investigator-led research programmes by:

  • encouraging innovative research through standard grants – in all types and applications of photonic materials that aim to discover and characterise new materials, understand and control material characteristics, and enable cost-effective manufacturing of photonic materials
  • encouraging the movement of research up the innovation chain
  • strengthening links to users of research outputs – such as academics in other EPSRC-supported areas (including in the Information and communication technologies (ICT), Engineering, Healthcare technologies and Manufacturing the future themes) and industrial users, particularly where these contribute to EPSRC outcomes.

Why we're doing it

Across the UK there are several established researchers leading research groups that produce a diverse range of high-quality photonic materials research, featuring internationally leading and globally significant work.

As well as research, we support a number of centres for doctoral training (CDTs) within this research area. Some of our mid-range facilities (notably the III-V facility at Sheffield and the SuperSTEM microscopy facility at Daresbury), as well as Diamond Light Source and the Advanced Research Computing High End Resource (ARCHER2) supercomputer facility, provide world-leading support to researchers. While we provide funding for much of this, other sources support a significant level of activity.

Although the UK continues to enjoy a pre-eminent position in this area, there is increasing international competition from the US, China, Germany, Russia, Australia, and Spain. The key difference is the breadth of UK strength across a variety of materials and challenges, whereas other countries mostly have strength in specific sub-fields.

Photonic materials in their various forms have a wide variety of applications – for example, organic optoelectronics, displays, telecommunications, data storage, sensing and energy-efficient lighting. To achieve their potential in such applications a number of challenges need to be addressed through fundamental research. The UK academic community has the capacity to address these.

Photonic materials research has naturally close links to the quantum technologies research community, including the Quantum Hubs and the EU Quantum Flagship. Significant end users with a UK base include Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Ltd (Dstl), Intel, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Oclaro, QinetiQ and Seagate.

There is also a large base of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK photonics industry.

In terms of the wider materials science community, relationships should be established or strengthened with key science and policy activities such as the Advanced Materials Leadership Council (AMLC) and the Sir Henry Royce Institute.

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 Photonic materials.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Last updated: 27 July 2023

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