Institute of Communications and Connected Systems


Optical Networks Group shortlisted as Bhattacharya Award finalist

14 September 2023

The Optical Networks Group at UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering has been shortlisted for the annual Royal Academy of Engineering Bhattacharya Award in recognition of their longstanding relationships with over 60 leading international and UK industrial partners.

Thumbnail picture of ONG

The Bhattacharyya Award, hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), is an annual award to celebrate collaboration between academia and industry. The Royal Academy of Engineering has shortlisted six exceptional industry–academia partnerships from across the UK for this year’s Bhattacharyya Award.

This year, the Optical Networks Group (ONG) has been shortlisted as one of the six finalists for this highly competitive award. The work of the Optical Networks Group has been key to the development of optical fibre communication networks, carrying over 95% of all digital data that underpin global communications. In recent years, the group has achieved a 100,000-fold increase in optical network data capacity, the doubling of transmission distances, and world record data rates, using its one-of-a-kind laboratories and expertise.

Leading ONG’s cutting-edge research is the founder and the head of the group, Professor Polina Bayvel. Speaking on the nomination, Professor Bayvel CBE FREng FRS, said: “Our research staff, our experimental facilities and our students are exceptional and world-leading. We have reached this position through close and highly productive research relationships with our collaborators – achieved through fruitful technology exchange over almost three decades.”

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The group is at the centre of a web of over 60 leading international and UK industrial laboratories and companies, across all communications sectors: network operators and content providers (e.g., BT, Deutsche Telecom, Microsoft, KDDI), equipment and device manufacturers (Oclaro (now Lumentum), Nokia Bell Labs, Xtera, ADVA, Mitsubishi, Infinera) and optical fibre manufacturers (Corning, OFS). This has been key to the group's impact and the experimentally demonstrated advances have led to society-wide impact by deeply embedding their industrial collaborators within the group's research. The longstanding nature of ONG’s collaborative research directly address the need to ubiquitously provide high-capacity, resilient and secure digital communications, beyond the potential offered by the current technology. The vital importance of this infrastructure for remote working, online learning and tele-medicine was vividly illustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Professor Geraint Rees FMedSci FRCP, UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement), said: “The work of the ONG is a perfect exemplar of what we seek to achieve in creating impact through UCL. We're incredibly proud of what they've done, over many years.”

Dr Kari Clark, ONG researcher and RAEng Research Fellow, who led the writing and video creation for the group’s award submission and short-listing, said: “It’s been a pleasure to showcase the society-transformative collaborative achievements of the Optical Networks Group with industry: fingers crossed!”

The Bhattacharyya Award is a tribute to Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya KT CBE FREng FRS, the Regius Professor of Manufacturing at the University of Warwick and founder of WMG who advocated for greater collaboration between industry and universities. Funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, the annual Bhattacharyya Award is open to UK universities and colleges that have demonstrated a sustained, strategic industrial partnership that has benefitted society and is deserving of national recognition. Industry–academia partnerships from any academic discipline are eligible for the Bhattacharyya Award.
Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, former President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Chair of the judging panel for the Bhattacharyya Award, said: “The six finalists for this year’s Award are inspiring and diverse examples of successful collaboration between academia and industry—it’s terrific to be able to highlight and to celebrate their innovation and impact and I hope they will provide inspiration for others. We know that there are other great partnerships like these between universities and colleges and industries across the UK in all sectors but that we need many more if we are to fully reap the economic and societal benefit of our research investment and capability.”

The Bhattacharyya Award 2023 and a cash prize of £25,000 will be presented on 24 October 2023 to the team who best demonstrate how industry and universities can work together. See the full list of shortlisted partnerships here


Image Credit

  • Photographer: James Tye