Published on 07/01/2022
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  • £1.6m awarded to Aston University to develop new optical frequency technology
  • Project will target applications of new technology such as food industry, agri-tech and telecommunications
  • Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies will lead the new UKRI-funded research

Aston University is heading up a European collaboration that will explore new optical frequency comb (OFC) technology and its applications in various areas including telecommunications and the food industry. An OFC is a particular kind of light which acts as an ultra-precise optical ruler which measures exact frequencies of light.

Based in the University’s Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies (AIPT) the project has been awarded £1.6m by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

AIPT is one of the world’s leading institutes in photonics - the science of generating, controlling and detecting photons, which are particles of light. Photonics underpins a vast range of technologies used in our everyday lives, from smartphones and lighting to the internet and medical instruments.

The Aston University team, led by Professor Sergei Turitsyn, director of Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies, will both develop novel advanced optical frequency comb technologies and explore feasibility of the developed methods in several fields of major practical importance. For example, within the food supply chain and agricultural technology they can be used to prevent contamination by detecting toxic or noxious substances.

Other applications of OFC technologies include high speed optical communications, monitoring greenhouse gases concentration outdoors, gas concentrations in industrial settings, optical sensing, and many other applications across many industrial sectors.

This project is in partnership with two French universities, the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis and the University of Lille. It has the ambitious goal to revolutionise high-speed, high-resolution spectroscopy by developing a new family of light sources with improved robustness, performance and versatility to allow for wider adoption in a wide range of different fields.

The project aims to overcome barriers to the existing technology and develop new advanced methods with a research programme spanning from new concepts and designs to demonstrations of practical applications of frequency combs including metrology, telecommunications, gas sensing and sensing for the food industry.

Professor Sergei Turitsyn, who is also co-director of The Wolfson Centre for Photonics for Food and Agri-Tech at Aston University, said:

“We are happy to receive this EPSRC award that will allow us together with the two French academic centres both to advance frequency comb technology exploiting new nonlinear science concepts and immediately apply developed technology to highly important practical problems.

“In this project we will work closely the industrial project partners including BAE Systems, Xtera, OFS, Thales, Highways England, Eblana Phtonics, Pilot Photonics and Branscan. 

“This is also an example of the post-Brexit collaboration that demonstrates that science unites people.”

The project is one of 12 which are receiving a total of £17 million investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), with partners providing cash and in-kind contributions.

Each project brings together some of the world’s leading research groups, in the UK and internationally, to catalyse cutting-edge research and develop engineering and technological applications that will have major impact on society

Science Minister George Freeman said:

“From improving cancer treatment and generating clean growth to designing the communication networks of tomorrow, UK science, technology and innovation is developing pioneering solutions to the some of the world’s greatest challenges.

“These 12 international projects will harness the expertise of the UK’s world-leading researchers and global collaborators, helping us accelerate our path to an innovation nation and underline our position as a science superpower.”

EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Dame Lynn Gladden said:

“From better, cheaper medicines to powerful quantum computers and next-generation communications networks, these new technologies have the potential to transform the way we live.

“By bringing together world-leading researchers to deliver ground-breaking science and engineering solutions, these projects will generate impact that will be felt across all of society.”

Notes to Editors

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. By investing in research and postgraduate training, it is building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation.

its portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research it funds has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future UK prosperity by contributing to a healthy, connected, resilient, productive nation.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is the largest public funder of research and innovation in the UK, with a budget of around £8bn. It is composed of seven disciplinary research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.  

It operates across the whole country and work with our many partners in higher education, research organisations businesses, government, and charities.  

 Its vision is for an outstanding research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit, enriching lives locally, nationally and internationally.   

Its mission is to convene, catalyse and invest in close collaboration with others to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good.  

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Saskia Hansen is the interim Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world.

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Nicola Jones, Press and Communications Manager, (+44)74469 10063 or email:

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