leos banner

This article gives an overview of photonics research in Australia and highlights some of the country’s unique R&D strengths.

AUSTRALIANS have a reputation as being early adopters of telecommunications technologies. Beginning with the electric telegraph in the 1850’s and more recently, with the introduction of advanced optical fiber and wireless networks, Australia has long been served by state-of-the-art communications systems. In step with these developments, Australian researchers and innovators have built a strong record of innovation and development in telecommunications and photonics.
One of Australia’s early pioneers in photonics technology was Professor Tony Karbowiak. He moved to the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in the 1960’s, having been Charles Kao’s supervisor at STL in the UK prior the famous Kao-Hockham paper published in 1966. Karbowiak lead much of Australia’s early university work on fibers.
Another import to Australia was Professor Alan Snyder who came to the country in 1971 and headed the Australian National University’s (ANU) activities in waveguide theory. Snyder and a number of other researchers at the ANU, including Colin Pask, and John Love made significant contributions on propagation based on reflection, refraction and tunneling of light rays along multimode optical fibers. Together with other universities, the ANU has produced many outstanding researchers and engineers who have helped to build the industry both in Australia and overseas.

Figure 1: Photonics research concentrations in Australia

Figure 2: Lathe at the University of Sydney’s Optical Fiber Technology Centre

In addition to pioneering theoretical work on optical waveguides, Australian researchers made a number of important practical contributions to the development of optical fibre technology. The search for low-loss optical fiber resulted in some early successes at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). Graeme Olgivie was working in CSIRO Tribophysics and noticed that tetrachloroethylene (dry cleaning fluid) was optically very clear in the visible wavelength region. Using a small capillary, developed in collaboration with Amalgamated Wireless Australia (AWA), Olgivie produced in 1972 a multimode fibre with a (then) record low loss of 20dB/km. This work helped to stimulate the development of low-loss optical fibres and was continued by AWA, the PMG Research Laboratories, (the forerunner of Telstra’s Research Laboratories), and in a number of universities.
Telstra’s Research Laboratories (TRL) established the first optical fibre field trials in Australia in 1979, and the first commercial fibre system was an 8-km link installed in 1981 in the Melbourne metropolitan area, carrying 4x34 Mbit/s traffic. TRL has continued for many years to play a leading role in Australian photonics R&D scene.
A notable strength of the Australian photonics community over the years has been its cohesiveness. This has been helped by the fact that the community has met annually since 1976 (the same year as the first ECOC in Paris). This annual conference is now known as the Australian Conference on Optical Fibre Technology (ACOFT) and today attracts approximately 200 attendees each year.
The 1990’s saw a new era of activity in photonics research in Australia. The University of Sydney established its Optical Fibre Technology Centre in the late 1980’s under Simon Poole, and together with the University of Melbourne’s Photonics Research Laboratory, ANU’s Optical Sciences Centre, the UNSW, and a number of companies, formed the Australian Photonics Cooperative Research Centre (APCRC). The APCRC was active throughout the 1990’s and played a significant role in advanced R&D in photonics, and in the establishment of commercial photonics activities. In addition to spawning a number of photonics companies, the APCRC was an important source of talented PhD graduates and experienced postdoctoral researchers. These individuals helped to build up the industry in Australia, but many of them moved overseas (principally to the USA) and with them, awareness of Australia’s strength in photonics spread.

Figure 3: CUDOS vision of a photonic chip

Current Activities
The telecommunications and photonics industry downturn has taken its toll in Australia. However, strong photonics R&D continues to thrive in a growing number of universities, companies, and government research organizations. Today, there are substantial university-based photonics research activities in six cities in Australia, as shown on the map in Fig. 1. We will now look briefly at some of these activities in each city.
1. Sydney
Most photonics research in Sydney is grouped around the University of Sydney, Macquarie University, the University of Technology Sydney and the University of New South Wales (UNSW). The Optical Fiber Technology Centre at the University of Sydney [1] (Fig. 2) currently has a strong activity in Microstructured Optical Fibre (MOF) using three different materials, namely polymers, silica glass and fluoride glass. The group has demonstrated band-gap guidance in polymer optical fiber and has recently done pioneering work on fluoride glass MOF and high birefringence silica MOF.
Another group at the University of Sydney is the Fibre-optics and Photonics Laboratory [2], which is directed by Professor Robert Minasian. This group is doing ground-breaking work in photonic signal processing and microwave photonics, including optical communications, novel microwave photonic filters, optically-controlled phased arrays, and THz photonics in communications and radar. At the University of New South Wales, the Centre of Excellence in Advanced Silicon Photovoltaics & Photonics [3], under Stuart Wenham and Martin Green, is doing pioneering work on buried-contact solar cells high efficiency solar cells, polycrystalline silicon (poly-Si) solar cells, and silicon light emitters.
Also located at the University of New South Wales is a large group associated with the Australian Research Council Centre for Quantum Computer Technology [4]. This Centre is led by Bob Clarke, and is located in eight universities and other laboratories around Australia. The Centre for Quantum Computer Technology is undertaking fundamental research across a wide range of topics that underpin quantum computing, ranging from theoretical quantum computation and information to materials research, atomic scale fabrication and crystal growth, and atomic level manipulation.
Another large Australian Research Council funded Centre of Excellence spans a number of Sydney-based groups in the University of Sydney, Macquarie University and the University of Technology, Sydney. This centre, the Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) [5], also has links to the Australian National University in Canberra, and Swinburne University in Melbourne. The CUDOS Research Director is Ben Eggleton, who is located at the University of Sydney. The Macquarie group includes Jim Piper and his colleagues. CUDOS is working on a number of optical technologies, including chalcogenide glass waveguides, with an over-arching vision of producing a photonic chip, such as an optical regenerator (see Fig. 3). Topics under study include chalcogenide integrated devices, photonic crystals and other periodic structures, nonlinear optic signal processing, and microfluidics.

Figure 4: ANU Semiconductor Optoelectronics and Nanotechnology Group

2. Canberra
Photonics research in Canberra is concentrated mainly at the Australian National University (ANU). John Love heads the Optical Sciences Group at the Research School of Physical Sciences & Engineering [6], with a focus on theoretical work in the areas of linear and non-linear guided wave optics. Jagadish (second from the right in the back row of the photograph in Fig. 4) heads the ANU Semiconductor Optoelectronics and Nanotechnology Group [7], which is doing work on a range of device and materials topics including InGaAs quantum dots on GaAs, quantum dot lasers and photodetectors, and nanowires in a number of different materials (see Fig. 5).
Barry Luther-Davies’ group at the ANU [8] has developed the first high quality 2-D photonic crystals in chalcogenide glasses and has fabricated low loss chalcogenide glass waveguides (see Fig. 6). They have demonstrated strong self-phase modulation in chalcogenide waveguides and, together with other CUDOS researchers in Sydney, they have demonstrated the first integrated all-optical regenerator based on chalcogenide devices. Yuri Kivshar’s group, the Nonlinear Physics centre [9] works in the area of nonlinear optics and solitons.

Figure 5: Branch/stem InAs/GaAs hetero-nanowire grown by ANU Semiconductor Optoelectronics and Nanotechnology Group

Figure 6: Low-loss chalcogenide glass waveguide fabricated by CUDOS team in Canberra

Figure 7: Optical modulator chip fabricated at MMTC

3. Melbourne
There are six universities in Melbourne with active photonics research programs. The Optical Technology Research Laboratory at Victoria University [10] is working, under Stephen Collins, on fiber sensors, characterization techniques for optical materials, fiber lasers, optical amplifiers, and imaging of photonic devices. At Latrobe University, Laurie Cahill heads a group working on fiber sensors, on-chip interconnects, and SNOM probes [11].
At Monash University, Arthur Lowery, Le Binh Nguyen, and Malin Premaratne collaborate over a range of topics including design automation, photonic circuit design, biophotonics, nano-photonic and Tbit/s systems [12]. The Microelectronics and Materials Technology Centre (MMTC) at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology [13] is headed by Mike Austin. Mike’s group is working on integrated optical devices and microwave photonic systems. Fig. 7 is a photograph of a high-speed Lithium Niobate modulator fabricated at MMTC.
Swinburne University’s Centre for Micro-photonics [14] (see Fig. 8) is directed by Min Gu. Min’s group is closely linked to CUDOS, and is carrying out research across a range of topics, in nanophotonics and biophotonics, with a focus on 3-D photonic crystals, optical data storage, and photopolymers and nanocomposites, multiphoton and confocal microscopy, near-field laser tweezers, and micro-fluidic devices and sensing.
The University of Melbourne’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering hosts two photonics groups. The first of these is the Australian Research Council Centre for Ultra-Broadband Information Networks (CUBIN) [16] and the second is the Victoria Laboratory of Australia’s National Information and Communications Technology Institute (NICTA) [17]. CUBIN (of which I am Research Director) and the NICTA Victoria Lab (under Rob Evans) are working on a range of collaborative projects, with a focus on optical networking. Fig. 9 is a photograph shows some of the CUBIN researchers. Central themes for CUBIN and NICTA’s research include physical layer monitoring and protocol domain system measurements, integration of fibre and wireless, and broadband access using passive optical networking and wireless. In the University of Melbourne’s Physics Department, David Jamieson heads the Centre for Quantum Computer Technology program in single ion implantation.

Figure 8: Swinburne University’s Centre for Micro-photonics

4. Adelaide
Tanya Monro (second from the left in Fig. 10) heads the Centre of Expertise (CoE) in Photonics at the University of Adelaide [17]. Tanya’s group is doing ground-breaking work in microstructured fibres, with work on new transmission wavelengths higher refractive index, nonlinearity, higher dopant levels, and the use of ‘Soft’ glasses to allow the use of new fabrication techniques. The photograph in Fig. 11 shows a complex preform extruded in soft glass in a single step. Also at the University of Adelaide is the T-Ray Group, founded by Derek Abbott [18]. This group is bridging the gap between the Terahertz and Photonics regimes.
Located a short distance north of Adelaide is Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) [19]. DSTO has links to the many defence industries that are located around Adelaide and also to the University of Adelaide photonics groups. At DSTO, there is active research in the areas of fibre optic hydrophones, high power lasers, frequency conversion (0.3 – 5 µm), infrared countermeasures, micro-structured optical fibres, LIDAR and non-cooperative target recognition, and RF Photonics.

Figure 9: Some CUBIN researchers

5. Perth
Crossing the continent to Perth, we find three strong photonics research groups – two at the University of Western Australia and one at Edith Cowan University. David Sampson heads up the University of Western Australia’s Optical and Biomedical Engineering Laboratory [20]. Recent highlights of David’s group’s research include fibre-probe tissue spectroscopy and spatially resolved Fourier holographic light scattering angular spectroscopy. Fig. 12 shows the results of some recent work on optical coherence tomography applied to the human upper airway.
The Western Australian Centre for Semiconductor Optoelectronics & Microsystems (WACSOM) [21] is also located at the University of Western Australia. WACSOM is directed by Laurie Faraone. Areas of research include HgCdTe material and IR detector technology, GaN-based UV detectors and high electron mobility transistors, Micro ElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS), IR and UV atmospheric propagation, and VLSI design. The photograph in Fig. 13 shows an Integrated HgCdTe/MEMS device fabricated at WACSOM.
Edith Cowan’s WA Centre of Excellence for Microphotonic Systems [22] is headed by Kamal Alameh. This group specializes in opto-VLSI design and fabrication, Integrated Photonic RF Signal Processors, electronically-driven magneto-photonic crystals, adaptive optics, and remote sensing.

Figure 10: Researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Centre of Expertise (CoE) in Photonics

6. Brisbane
Brisbane is well-known in the photonics world for its research in quantum computing. Groups at Griffith University and the University of Queensland are making strong contributions to the Centre for Quantum Computer Technology, mentioned earlier.

Figure 11: Complex preform extruded in soft glass in a single step

Photonics Research is alive and well in Australia. There are many research groups, and through various government funding schemes, such as the Australian Research Council’s Centres of Excellence and Special research Centres, and through NICTA, a number of groups have been able to sustain “critical mass” activities. The range of research topics covered in Australia is wide, with plenty of work on topics all the way from materials and devices through to sub-systems and systems. One area where Australia may be lagging behind in terms of quantity (but not quality) is in semiconductor photonics. Leaving the here are only three relatively small groups working in Australia on semiconductor materials and devices. This is an area that may deserve further growth in the future.

Figure 12: Optical coherence tomography of the human upper airway

There are many opportunities in Australia for researchers interested in photonics. Many of the universities mentioned in this article offer scholarships to PhD studies, and postdoctoral positions – more commonly known as research fellowships in Australia. A check of the various web sites would be a good way to find out what is on offer. Some of the centres discussed in this article have active high school outreach programs in photonics with a view to building interest in potential PhD students at an early stage. Other outreach activities are provided by two industry associations: the Australian Photonics Forum [23] and the Victorian Photonics Network [24].

Figure 13: Integrated HgCdTe/MEMS device fabricated at WACSOM

In this article, I have concentrated on activities in universities. I have no doubt inadvertently omitted mentioning some excellent research activities both in universities and in other organizations. I apologise to those researchers who may have been missed. There is a healthy R&D effort in industry, but I have not attempted to cover activities in industry in this article. It is worth noting that a number of small companies are making a mark. These include (but are not limited to) Engana [25], RBN [26], CEOS [27], VPIphotonics [28], Optiscan [29], Iatia [30], Ctam [31], and Future Fibre Technologies [32].
This article is based on a Plenary Presentation at the 2005 LEOS Annual Meeting, held in Sydney in October 2005.

[1] http://www.oftc.usyd.edu.au/
[2] http://www.ee.usyd.edu.au/research/allresearch/?group=fpl
[3] http://www.pv.unsw.edu.au/research/advancedsilicon.asp
[4] http://www.qcaustralia.org/
[5] http://www.cudos.org.au/
[6] http://wwwrsphysse.anu.edu.au/
[7] http://wwwrsphysse.anu.edu.au/eme/research/index.php
[8] http://laserspark.anu.edu.au/
[9] http://rsphy2.anu.edu.au/nonlinear/
[10] http://www.vu.edu.au/
[11] http://www.latrobe.edu.au/ee/research/optical.html
[12] http://www.ecse.monash.edu.au/staff/lowery/AXL%20 Webpage%20Active%20Overview.pdf
[13] http://www.rmit.edu.au/sece/mmtc
[14] http://www.swin.edu.au/bioscieleceng/soll/cmp/
[15] http://www.ee.unimelb.edu.au/research/cubin/index.html
[16] http://www.nicta.com.au/
[17] http://www.chemphys.adelaide.edu.au/physics/research/
[18] http://www.eleceng.adelaide.edu.au/thz/
[19] http://www.dsto.defence.gov.au/
[20] http://obel.ee.uwa.edu.au/
[21] http://www.ee.uwa.edu.au/~mrg/
[22] http://comps.ecu.edu.au/
[23] http://www.aeema.asn.au/default.aspx?FolderID=236&ArticleID=330
[24] http://www.mmv.vic.gov.au/Photonics
[25] http://www.engana.com/
[26] http://www.rbni.com/
[27] http://www.ceos.com.au/
[28] http://www.vpiphotonics.com/photonics_home.php
[29] http://www.optiscan.com.au/
[30] http://www.iatia.com.au/
[31] http://www.ctam.com.au/index.shtml
[32] http://www.fft.com.au/

If you would like to contact the IEEE Webmaster
© Copyright 2006, IEEE. Terms & Conditions. Privacy & Security

return to contents

ieee logo