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Southampton professor knighted for bringing light to life

Published: 27 December 2012

Professor David Payne of the University of Southampton has been knighted by Her Majesty The Queen for services to photonics, the science and application of light and electronics.

Professor Payne, Director of the University’s world-renowned Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), was recognised for his extensive contributions to harnessing light in telecommunications, sensing, and lasers for manufacturing. He has to his credit an astonishing number of key discoveries, including his pioneering research developing the world’s first practical optical fibre amplifier – the Erbium-Doped Fibre Amplifier (EDFA) – and its use in optical fibre transmission systems. This crucial component forms the backbone of the Internet and made possible its explosive growth through an ability to transmit and amplify vast amounts of data.

Sir David Payne

The EDFA, developed in 1987, is widely regarded as one of the most significant developments in modern telecommunications. Every time you use the Internet, your mobile phone or an ATM you are using technology developed at Southampton.

Professor Payne, who is among the most highly honoured UK scientists, says, “I was recently described by my peers as the man who made phone calls free. While this is an exaggeration, it conveys the profound impact of the optical internet on our daily lives. Thousands of engineers and scientists worked away in the background and changed our world for the better. When some of us are recognised publically for what we have achieved, it is a wonderful accolade for us all.”

A new video produced by the University shows Sir David's knighthood ceremony at Buckingham Palace and provides further insight into his contribution to photonics.

An international researcher who has spent his entire career spanning four decades with the University, Professor Payne is one of the most highly recognised scientists in the UK, as evidenced by numerous international honours and awards. He has made many influential discoveries in diverse areas of photonics, from telecommunications and optical sensors to nanophotonics and optical materials.

His pioneering work in fibre fabrication in the 1970s resulted in most of the special fibres used today. He also led the team that developed the single mode silica fibre laser and broke the kilowatt barrier for the output power. Some of the highest power fibre lasers in the world have been designed by Professor Payne and his team.

Fibres invented and made in Southampton are on the Moon and Mars, while Professor Payne’s ideas navigate airliners, cut steel, mark smart phones, manufacture life-saving medical devices, help defend our nation and power the Internet.

As a leading University entrepreneur, Professor Payne’s activities have led to a photonics cluster of nine companies surrounding the ORC, creating jobs and wealth in the Southampton region. With colleagues, he founded SPI Lasers plc, a leading supplier of high power fibre lasers located in Hedge End, Hampshire.


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