The University of Southampton

History of the ORC

The ORC was formed in 1989, its history extends even further. After the invention of the Laser in 1960, Southampton started work on this new device in 1961. In 1966, work on optical fibres began at the University to try to make long-distance light communication a practical reality.

The challenge - getting fibre losses down

The fibre tower (pictured left) allowed us to create fibres with losses of just 1000db/km. At the time, this was an amazing result, but more was to come. While some of the pioneering communications labs across the world had dismissed silica optical fibres as impractical, losses had been reduced to a few db/km. 

The paper Zero material dispersion in optical fibres, Electronics Letters 1975 Vol.11 pp.176-178, D.N.Payne, W.A.Gambling marked a new era in communications. For this paper, new fabrication techniques were developed, and new ways to characterise the resulting fibres were required to optimise the process. The result was the explosive growth in optical communications, a truly world-changing phenomenon.

However, there were still more pieces of the puzzle required for the world-spanning bandwidth we have today. The paper Low-noise erbium-doped fibre amplifier operating at 1.54µm, Electronics Letters 1987 Vol.23(19) pp.1026-1028, R.J.Mears, L.Reekie, I.M.Jauncey, D.N.Payne announced to the world the invention of the first practical optical amplifier. This made long-distance optical communications practical, as many signals could be easily sent hundreds of miles without requiring electronic conversion. The effect was to make huge amounts of bandwidth available at low cost over very long distances. This was a major pre-requisite for the formation of the Internet as it is today.

This history of discovery and innovation by the Optical Fibre Group in the Electronics Department and the Laser Physics Group in the Physics Department led to the formation of the Optoelectronics Research Centre. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) established the ORC in 1989 as an Interdisciplinary Research Centre. Today the ORC still has close links with the Schools of Physics and Electronics & Computer Science, with staff seconded from both.

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