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Inventors of game-changing semiconductor laser win prestigious Academy award

Three engineers behind the development of a revolutionary semiconductor laser, hailed as the biggest breakthrough in this field in 30 years, have been awarded this year’s Colin Campbell Mitchell Award from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Award is made annually to an engineer or small team of engineers who have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of any field of UK engineering, and Dr Richard Taylor, Dr David Childs and Professor Richard Hogg of Vector Photonics will be presented with the Award at the Academy’s Enterprise Showcase on Tuesday 16 November 2021.

Left to right: Professor Richard Hogg, Dr David Childs and Dr Richard Taylor

The team’s ground-breaking photonic crystal surface emitting laser (PCSEL) combines and improves upon the strengths of vertical-cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSEL) and edge-emitting laser (EEL), involving a novel laser geometry that eliminates the compromise between speed, cost, and power inherent in previous semiconductor lasers.

Scalable and able to operate at any wavelength, PCSELs are game-changing technology with applications in the communications sector but also offers a step change in performance for additive manufacturing, gas sensing and lidar. Many different types of lasers are currently on the market and businesses must choose the ones that will best meet their particular purposes. In future, the PCSEL may fulfil all requirements for diode laser manufacturing.

Having developed the technology within UK universities, the team began the process of commercialising the technology and spun-out Vector Photonics in March of 2020. What makes Vector Photonics’ design approach particularly attractive is its compatibility with existing semiconductor device manufacturing processes, simplifying the build and delivery of their PCSEL devices.

Though in its infancy, the company has already secured more than £2.5 million in company grant funding, £1.6million in equity investment, increased its headcount to 16 people and generated enough international attention to have some of the world’s largest companies requesting samples and contracts.

Professor Bashir M. Al-Hashimi CBE FREng, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Awards Committee, said: “A high-speed, high-power, surface-emitting laser operable at communications wavelengths represents the holy grail and companies globally have committed decades of effort and money to address this problem, which the core team at Vector Photonics were first in the world to solve. With their varied, multidisciplinary and complementary skillset, the team members are worthy winners of this Award. I am pleased the Academy is able to acknowledge and encourage engineering achievements, ingenuity and innovation in this way to ensure it flourishes in the UK and internationally.

The winning team said: “We are honoured and humbled to receive such a prestigious award from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the world’s premier learned society for engineering. The technology started as blue skies research in a university laboratory and, thanks to support from a range of funding sources and the wider team, we have been able to translate our technology to real world application through commercial venture. We hope that the recognition that the Colin Campbell Mitchell Award brings will inspire others to study engineering and develop their entrepreneurship, both of which are at the heart of British culture.”

Notes for Editors

  1. The Colin Campbell Mitchell Award commemorates the life and work of one of Scotland’s most accomplished marine engineers. Edinburgh-born Colin Campbell Mitchell OBE FRSE (1904-69) had a long and distinguished career with Brown Brothers Engineering, where he pioneered the development of the steam catapult for use on aircraft carriers.

    Awarded to an individual or team of up to six engineers, either working or studying in the UK, the Colin Campbell Mitchell Award is given for the greatest contribution to the advancement of any field of engineering within the period of the four years prior to the making of the award. A cash prize of £3,000 will be awarded to an individual, up to a maximum of £6,000 for a team.

Media enquiries to: Pippa Cox at the Royal Academy of Engineering Tel. +44 20 7766 0745; email: [email protected]

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