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
|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
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
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  (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
Another group at the University of Sydney is the Fibre-optics and Photonics
Laboratory , 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
, 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
. 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) ,
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
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 , 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 , 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  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  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
There are six universities in Melbourne with active photonics research
programs. The Optical Technology Research Laboratory at Victoria University
 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
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 .
The Microelectronics and Materials Technology Centre (MMTC) at Royal
Melbourne Institute of Technology  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  (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
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)
 and the second is the Victoria Laboratory of Australia’s
National Information and Communications Technology Institute (NICTA)
. 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
Tanya Monro (second from the left in Fig. 10) heads the Centre of Expertise
(CoE) in Photonics at the University of Adelaide . 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 .
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) . 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
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 .
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)  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
 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
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,
|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  and
the Victorian Photonics Network .
|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 , RBN , CEOS , VPIphotonics , Optiscan ,
Iatia , Ctam , and Future Fibre Technologies .
This article is based on a Plenary Presentation at the 2005 LEOS Annual
Meeting, held in Sydney in October 2005.
 http://www.ecse.monash.edu.au/staff/lowery/AXL%20 Webpage%20Active%20Overview.pdf