The University of Southampton

Professor David Payne presented with top communications prize

Published: 29 September 2008

Internationally-distinguished photonics researcher and fibre optic pioneer, Professor David N Payne, Director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton, was presented with the 2008 Marconi Society Prize and Fellowship at the society's annual awards dinner. The event was attended by 150 scientists and other dignitaries at the Royal Society in London on Friday 26 September 2008.

Payne was selected for his pioneering work in the field of fibre optoelectronics and optical fibre telecommunications, the backbone of modern high-speed data transmission. Lord Alec Broers, chair of the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords, made the presentation of the $100,000 Prize.

The Marconi Society, established in 1975, annually recognizes a living scientist whose work has advanced the social, economic and cultural status of all humanity.

Of the many and major advances developed by Payne's research group, perhaps the best known is the invention of the erbium-doped fibre amplifier (EDFA), a type of optical amplifier that powers our fibre telecommunications systems and supports the entire internet. This unique invention overcame the problem of transmitting data over large distances when the light dims, even when using highly transparent fibre.  Today, virtually every optical fibre is amplified with EDFA’s, allowing oceans and continents to be spanned.

Payne, 63, was born in England, but brought up in Africa, and returned to England to attend university. He earned a Bachelor of Science in electrical power engineering at the University of Southampton in 1967 and became its first graduate student in a new optical fibre research program. His work helped establish the Optoelectronics Research Centre as one of the leading fibre optic research facilities in the world.  Since 1995 he has been Professor of Photonics and Director of the ORC.

Says Payne: "I was incredibly fortunate to be offered the opportunity to work as one of the first in optical telecommunications. Optical fibres created the high-speed connected world and their outstanding success has been one of man's greatest achievements. Without optical fibres and amplifiers it is hard to imagine the internet we know today."

Among the numerous awards and honours Payne has received are the top American, European and Japanese prizes in photonics. He has been honoured with the UK Rank Prize for Optics, the IEEE Photonics Award (the first awarded outside the USA) and more recently he was elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences as one of only 240 foreign members. Earlier this year, he became a Millennium Prize winner.

Payne, a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Academy of Engineering, lives with his wife Vanessa in Hamble, Southampton.

Other recent winners have included Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and French Professor Claude Berrou, whose discovery of turbo codes led to important advances in mobile telephony, satellite and radio communications. The UK has produced a number of Marconi Fellows over the three decades the organization has been in existence, including E. Colin Cherry (now deceased), who laid out most of the foundation of modern information theory; Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web; Sir Arthur Clarke, widely known as an author but also the first to describe in detail the great potential and technical requirements for using geostationary satellites in global communications; and Sir Eric Ash, a pioneer in the development of Surface Acoustic Wave devices.


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