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The University of Southampton

Professor David Payne nominated as finalist for 2008 Millennium Technology Prize

Published: 8 April 2008
Professor David Payne

The Millennium Prize Foundation today announced that Professor David Payne of the University of Southampton has been selected as a finalist for the 2008 Millennium Technology Prize, the world's largest and most prestigious award for technology innovation.

Professor Payne, who is Director of the world-renowned Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton, is nominated along with two colleagues, Dr Randy Giles, Director of Optical Subsystems and Advanced Photonics at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, and Professor Emmanuel Desurvire, formerly of Bell Labs, Columbia University, Alcatel and currently Director of the Physics Research Group at Thales Research and Technology.

The scientists are being recognised for their historic contributions to telecommunications through their pioneering research developing the world's first practical optical amplifier - the Erbium-Doped Fibre Amplifier (EDFA) - and its use in fibre optic transmission systems. It is this crucial component which forms the backbone of the World Wide Web and has made possible an explosive growth in the internet through its ability to transmit and amplify vast amounts of data. The EDFA, developed in 1987, is widely regarded as one of the most significant developments in modern telecommunications.

Optical fibre transmission systems were first deployed in the mid 1970s and soon afterwards a new technique, wavelength division multiplexing (WDM), promised to dramatically increase the fibre's data-handling capacity with the simultaneous transmission of multiple signal channels. To unlock the potential of WDM though, breakthrough technology was needed to overcome the inherent signal losses in optical fibre. It was the discovery that erbium, a rare-earth element, possesses unique properties ideally suited to the amplification of light signals in optical fibres that led to the invention of the EDFA for which this team is recognized.

An international researcher who has spent his entire career spanning four decades with the University, Professor Payne has generated 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 many of the special fibres used today. He also led the teams that developed the single mode silica fibre laser and broke the kilowatt barrier for the output power of a fibre laser. Some of the highest power fibre lasers in the world have been designed by Professor Payne and his team.

Selected as a finalist for the 2008 Millennium Technology Prize
Professor David Payne

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 at Hedge End. In 2005 SPI Lasers successfully floated on the Alternative Investment Market.

A total of 99 individuals were proposed for the Millennium Technology Prize by 88 organisations in 27 countries and, in addition to the Payne-Desurvire-Giles team, three other finalists were announced today. The winning individual or team will be announced at an award ceremony in Helsinki, Finland, on 11 June. The prize pool for the 2008 Millennium Technology Prize is € 1.15 million. The winner of the Millennium Technology Prize will be awarded € 800,000, and the other innovations will each be awarded € 115,000.

University of Southampton Vice-Chancellor Professor Bill Wakeham comments: 'The erbium-doped fibre amplifier is a crucial invention that has made possible the global information superhighway and the high-speed telecommunication networks which are so important to us all in the 21st century. I am delighted that the unique contribution that David and his colleagues have made through their research is being recognised by the Millennium Foundation by their nomination for this prestigious technology award.'

Past winners of the Prize include Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and Chair of Computer Science at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science, and Professor Shuji Nakamura, inventor of new revolutionary light sources.

Notes for editors

  • About the Millennium Technology Prize
    The Millennium Technology Prize is Finland's tribute to life-enhancing technological innovation. The prize is awarded by the Millennium Prize Foundation, an independent fund established by Finnish industry and the Finnish state in partnership, and is awarded every second year for a technological innovation that is significantly improving the quality of human life today and in the future. Candidates are sought from across the world and all fields of technology. For more information visit

  • About the Optoelectronics Research Centre
    The Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton is one of the largest university-based research groups entirely devoted to optoelectronics in the world, and has maintained a position at the forefront of photonics research for over four decades. Its long and well established track record in the fields of optical fibre, lasers, waveguides, devices and optoelectronic materials has fostered innovation, enterprise, cross-boundary and multi-disciplinary activities.

    The ORC has built strong links with industry, research institutions and universities around the world, from informal collaborations to large-scale funding. Several spin out companies, including Southampton Photonics Inc, Stratophase Ltd, Mesophotonics Ltd and ChG Southampton Ltd, have commericalized the fruits of ORC research; while its extensive outreach programme has brought lasers and optical fibres into schools across the country. For more information visit

  • About the University of Southampton
    The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship.

    This is one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine, and home to a range of world-leading research centres, including the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, and the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies.

    We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

    As one of the UK's top 10 research universities, we offer first-rate opportunities and facilities for study and research across a wide range of subjects in humanities, health, science and engineering.

    We have over 22,000 students, around 5000 staff, and an annual turnover in the region of £325 million.

  • For further information contact:
    Rachel Abbott, Marketing Officer, Optoelectronics Research Centre, University of Southampton, Tel: 023 8059 3877, email:
    Sue Wilson, Communications, University of Southampton,
    Tel. 023 8059 5457, email:

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