Cork researchers build photonics technology with German company

20th September 2020

 The Tyndall National Institute is collaborating with German company FiconTEC to develop manufacturing solutions that transfer breakthroughs in their research to industry with immediate impact.

The Verden - headquartered photonics equipment manufacturer set up a new research team at the Tyndall facility in Cork city centre last October.

‘FiconTEC has installed state-of-the-art photonics manufacturing equipment at Tyndall to support the development of these advanced manufacturing technologies,’ Peter O’Brien, head of photonics packaging research at Tyndall. ‘It is a truly unique research and industrialisation ecosystem.’’

Tyndall National Institute is also at the helm of an international consortium called Pixapp, which would locate industry-leading expertise and infrastructure in Cork, making the city a global gateway for photonics research and advanced manufacturing, O’Brien said.

‘This is being achieved through available support from international and national agencies, such as the European Commission, Science Foundation Ireland and Enterprise Ireland,’ he said. Photonics offered new levels of speed and usage capacity surpassing traditional technologies such as electronics, which in many cases were nearing capacity, O’Brien said. Photonics use the light in tiny and highly complex photonic integrated circuit (PIC) microchips, of electrons, for applications ranging from high-speed communication over fibre-optic cables, high resolution sensing and imaging for medical devices and the control of self-driving cars.

‘During the electronics revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, everything was run on silicon microchips,’ O’Brien said. ‘There is now a move to use light and photonics involving the generation and control of light. Recent developments in advanced photonic microchips enable new applications not considered possible before: the photonics revolution.’

Along with performing fundamental research in photonics, O’Brien’s Tyndall researchers also undertake industrial research projects with leading global companies in areas including medical devices, automotive, space and aeronautics, communications, energy and security.

‘Working with Medtronic, we developed a handheld medical device to detect early-stage cardiovascular disease that can be used in a doctor’s surgery,’ O’Brien said.

‘In collaboration with Carl Zeiss in Germany, we developed a portable diagnostic instrument to detect the onset of macular degeneration.

‘We are also working on a number of exciting projects in quantum computing, which use the unique properties of light to overcome the limits of classical computing systems.’

There had been extensive research globally into photonic microchips over the past two decades, and the technology was now beginning to reach mass markets, O’Brien said. ‘We are developing tehniques to get light into and off these microchips and to control the light within the microchips, known as photonic packaging,’ he said.

‘The light in a microchip moves along a channel that is typically 200- billionths of a metre wide, o packaging presents many technological challenges.’

Recognised as a leader in photonics research, O’Brien previously worked at the California Institute of Technology in the US and at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, developing sensors for spacecraft and deep space telescopes.

In his role as head of photonics packaging research at Tyndall, he and his team collaborate with other leading institutes around the world including MIT, Caltech, UC Berkeley and Colombia University in the US and European centres such as Fraunhofer institutes in Germany.

In 2016, the group was awarded funding by the European Commission to establish the world’s first photonics packaging pilot line, Pizapp, which has a total budget of €15.5 million.

O’Brien was also awarded funding by the Irish government under the Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund, which has an overall budget of €4.1 million, to build a national photonics manufacturing capability.

‘We will continue to build a world-leading research capability and to support companies in Ireland and across the world to unleash the power of photonics,’ he said.  

Source: Business Post