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Australians seek to save the planet with photonics

Photonics Spectra
Jun 2009
Laura S. Marshall, laura.marshall@laurin.com

SYDNEY, Australia – Australia’s future has gotten brighter, thanks to the launch of the Institute of Photonics and Optical Science (IPOS) at the University of Sydney – the only one of its kind in the country. The new institute was introduced at the end of April with a one-day symposium titled “The Photonic Universe: Faster, Further, Smarter.”

Research areas to be covered at the institute include all aspects of fundamental and applied optics and photonics: the groundbreaking areas of metamaterials and cloaking; speeding up and greening the Internet; structural health monitoring; and pioneering fields such as medical and quantum photonics and astrophotonics.

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Professor Ben Eggleton, director of the Institute of Photonics and Optical Science (IPOS), welcomes the audience to April’s IPOS launch and symposium. The audience of 250 included Australian Sen. Anne McEwen and professor Michael Spence, vice chancellor of the University of Sydney.

“IPOS has broken new ground in terms of what we have achieved and the amazing future directions in which we are now headed,” said Benjamin J. Eggleton, director of IPOS and professor of physics. “We’re discovering new ways with photonics and optics that we never imagined.” Eggleton also is research director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Ultrahigh-bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) and an ARC Federation Fellow.

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Professor Alan Willner of the University of Southern California presents the keynote address at the symposium launching the Institute of Photonics and Optical Science (IPOS).

Eggleton said that IPOS already has met its core objective of increasing the Internet to operate at terabit-per-second capacity; IPOS researchers are now investigating ways to ensure that powering the Net won’t cause future energy crises. “It’s always exciting to solve a problem, such as speeding up the Net, but at the same time you have to be responsible for the impact it will place on our resources,” he said, adding that one Google search uses the same amount of energy as boiling a kettle. “So you can imagine what our tech-savvy society is doing to the world’s power sources by constantly uploading images and movies. We’re now looking at how optics can save energy and our planet.”

IPOS includes CUDOS in the School of Physics; the former Optical Fibre Technology Centre; the Fibre Optics and Photonics Laboratory in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering; and astronomical instrumentation (astrophotonics) programs of the Sydney Institute of Astronomy in the School of Physics.

The institute combines research and teaching expertise across the Schools of Physics, Electrical and Information Engineering, Mathematics and Chemistry, and the Electron Microscope Unit. In 2010, IPOS will launch a new master’s in photonics program, also the only one of its kind in Australia. Plans are under way for a major new building to house staff and research infrastructure.

Eggleton said that, with researchers collaborating from diverse areas such as physics, mathematics, chemistry and microscopy, ideas that once were thought to reside in the realm of fiction – invisibility, for example, or remote surgery – could cross over to the realm of reality.

“Photonics has only just touched on what it’s capable of, and being part of a broad team pushes us to truly explore new concepts and ideas even further,” he added. “‘What if?’ is a very exciting phrase.”


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