Research in photonics - Shaping the future with light
A branch of high technology has long since developed around the medium of light and German businesses are among the world market leaders in various areas of photonics, including laser technology, lighting, or microscopy and imaging. As of the beginning of 2013, the photonics industry provides jobs for more than 120,000 people. The research funding provided in the last ten years has played a pivotal role in the industry's success. The BMBF funding programme "Photonics Research Germany: Light with a Future" illustrates the Federal Government's strategy to maintain and build upon Germany's strong market position in the next ten years.
Photonics focuses on the generation, control, measurement, and - above all - the use of light in virtually every area that is vital to society and the economy. The term "photonics" refers to the photon, the light particle, just as "electronics" refers to the electron.
Light has extraordinary properties which include
- focusability down to one millionth of a millimetre (nanometre)
- the highest achievable speed in the universe
- shortest pulses of one billionth of a billionth of a second (attosecond)
- highest output of up to billions of megawatts (petawatt)
- undisturbed interaction: up to millions of megabits per second (terabits per second)
Photonics puts these properties to use. Together with other key technologies it promotes progress in energy-efficient production, in sustainable lighting systems, or in the area of medical diagnostics.
Entering the world of photonics
Since the launch of the BMBF funding programme "Photonics Research Germany: Light with a Future" in January 2012 there has been a change of name: "photonics" has replaced "optical technologies," in keeping with common international usage. It also marks the dawning of a new era.
Competencies from areas such as mechanical engineering, laser technology, semi-conductor technology, and medicine are merging. Photonics is moving along a path similar to that of electronics - progressing from small businesses to volume production, from separate to highly integrated technologies.
The control and use of the photon has become one of the key drivers of innovation in modern society and industry. The field of photonics now accounts for a dynamic world market in high demand with a sales volume of 250 billion euros.
Optical technologies are increasingly based on semi-conductors - in laser technology as well as in lighting.
"Photonics" bundles all of these developments into one. It provides us with huge opportunities but also poses great challenges. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is supporting the development of this enormous potential with annual amounts of approximately 100 million euros over the next four years.
A sunrise industry thanks to research funding
There are many factors which have propelled photonics from being a niche technology to one of the most important sunrise industries in Germany.
The innovative strength of the photonics industry and its highly qualified staff deserves mention, as do R&D investments that amount to about ten per cent of turnover - a considerable sum of 30 billion euros over the next ten years.
There is also the close cooperation between business and science which has led to the establishment of a great number of scientific facilities near these businesses. These include the four optics clusters funded under the Excellence Initiative, some of the Fraunhofer Institutes and some Max Planck institutes such as the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light founded in 2009 as well as numerous Länder institutions and measures.
On this basis, many important leaps in technology have been made in the last ten years with the help of BMBF support for R&D projects provided under the programme "Optical Technologies - Made in Germany."