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Lasers are sparking Poland’s photonics future

Photonics Spectra
Nov 2011

WARSAW, Poland –
As far as science in Poland is concerned, Nicolaus Copernicus may forever be the center of the universe, but many luminous researchers orbit that center centuries after the great astronomer’s passing.

Germany, the UK and France may get the lion’s share of photonics-related business in Europe, but other corners of the continent are getting their piece of the growing pie. Poland is no exception, with a slowly developing photonics landscape that builds on successes in laser, fiber optic and optoelectronic technologies.

The Polish tradition in photonic technologies goes back as far as the early 19th century, with advances in photography and metrology supporting research into geodesy, the science of the shape of the Earth. Currently, the optoelectronics industry is among the leading lights of research and manufacturing in Poland.

“Optoelectronics has been on the rise in Poland for several years, reflecting a dynamically growing Polish economy,” said Dariusz Litwin of the Institute of Applied Optics (INOS) in Warsaw. “Though this sector is not yet very large compared to the industry input as a whole, the fact [is] that almost each branch of industry needs optoelectronics components, including measurement and quality control systems.”


The Polish Free Electron Laser promises to ignite future photonics research and development. Courtesy of the Andrzej Soltan Institute for Nuclear Studies.


Several Polish research institutes, academic groups and commercial firms are involved in optoelectronics, and new laboratories are being built, Litwin said. Furthermore, various industries are increasingly likely to use research achievements in commercial applications.

On the academic side, at least 10 major technical universities in Poland have full courses in photonics leading to doctoral degrees, said Ryszard S. Romaniuk of the Warsaw University of Technology. The total funds given over to photonics research infrastructure by the Polish government thus far is about €100 million (approximately $138 million), he added.

“The importance of photonics is much better understood by industry than by our government or academic ‘authorities,’ ” said Krzysztof M. Abramski of the Wroclaw University of Technology in western Poland. “The ‘old electronic lobby’ blocks the development of photonics and optoelectronics.”

The influence of nonphotonics groups is felt at the universities, said Abramski, who has long worked in laser technologies. He cites the case of one of his more popular courses, “Applied Electronics and Optoelectronics,” having been removed just this year from the program at his university because of strong lobbies. “It is very disappointing and frustrating,” he said.

Among the organizations mostly outside the academic fray is Optoklaster, a photonics cluster with headquarters at INOS. According to Litwin, the companies that belong to Optoklaster manufacture optical and optoelectronic elements, semiconductor lasers, medical instruments and laser equipment for industry. The engineering and scientific staff affiliated with the cluster have expertise in optics, solid-state physics, semiconductor technology, infrared technology, optical and laser metrology, security systems and electronics, he said.

The main partners of Polish industrial companies are research institutes that are independent from the universities, Litwin said, but that strongly cooperate in the field of innovative solutions for Polish industries. Universities are involved mainly in education and basic research, while research institutes focus on the applied science.

The collaboration between research institutes and industrial companies is efficient because the scientific staff at the research institutes and entrepreneurs use the same language. There is very low government-based funding of these institutes (below 30 percent, with an average of 5 percent), which reinforces the propensity for industry-oriented projects. Fundamentally, Litwin pointed out, most research is performed by large, frequently international, teams, and the projects are highly interdisciplinary.

There are a lot of strongly motivated and well-prepared young scientists and engineers, Abramski acknowledged, but research is not a priority for the Polish government.

“You can see the first cooperation steps between universities and industry, but they need more impact and freedom – and money – and much less bureaucracy,” he said.

Laser technologies, infrared imaging, biomedical imaging, UV and IR detectors, and metrology systems will be at the forefront of Polish photonics for at least the near future, Litwin said. In addition, a facility now in the planning stages could spark a new round of both technological achievements and cooperation among academics, government and commercial enterprises.

The Polish Free Electron Laser is a fourth-generation light source planned for future photonics research. Funding efforts are under way, and the proposed site for the facility is the Andrzej Soltan Institute for Nuclear Studies in Swierk.

If completed, it will generate light pulses 100,000 times more powerful than current synchrotrons – in the service of both basic science and applications-driven technologies suitable for materials science and for medical, environmental and biological research. Proposed subjects for the free-electron laser include terahertz and microelectromechanical systems technologies, pump-probe techniques, quantum structures of semiconductor materials, and near-edge microscopy and spectroscopy. The facility also will be used to educate and train new generations of technologists and researchers.

Copernicus never had any biological children, but his spiritual offspring in the realm of Polish science and technology are doing him proud today.

Notable Photonics Companies in Poland

Amber Ltd.
  – lasers and accessories

Awat Ltd.
  – optoelectronics

Eurotek International Ltd.
  – lasers and accessories

Korporacja Wschód Sp. z o.o.
  – infrared sensors

Bumar Zolnierz SA (formerly rzemyslowe Centrum Optyki SA)
  – optoelectronics

Sensomed sc
  – optoelectronics

Solaris Laser SA
  – laser marking systems

Vigo System SA
  – infrared sensors


GLOSSARY
optoelectronics
A sub-field of photonics that pertains to an electronic device that responds to optical power, emits or modifies optical radiation, or utilizes optical radiation for its internal operation. Any device that functions as an electrical-to-optical or optical-to-electrical transducer. Electro-optic often is used erroneously as a synonym.
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