The high value of the laser industry to Scotland’s economy has been revealed in a major new report, released on November 2 by Minister for Enterprise, Energy & Tourism Jim Mather.
The study, 50 Years of Lasers in Scotland, finds that sales of laser-enabled photonics were worth £660 million to the Scottish economy in 2009 and that the industry employs 3,000 people in Scotland. The nation currently has 82 companies working in the field of laser-enabled photonics and is in a strong position to continue the growth in the sector which has occurred in each of the last five decades.
Credit: Department of Physics, University of Strathclyde
The report was launched at A National Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Laser, an event highlighting Scotland’s role in the expansion of the industry since the first laser demonstration in 1960. Keynote speakers included US Secretary of Energy Dr Steven Chu, who was appointed to President Barack Obama’s administration in 2009 and who jointly won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997.
Two other Nobel Physics Laureates, Professor Eric Cornell of the University of Colorado and Professor Roy Glauber of Harvard University, also spoke at the event, at Glasgow Science Centre. All three are due to receive honorary degrees from the University of Strathclyde during their visit.
Lasers are at the heart of most of today’s most lucrative and widely-used technologies, including computers, telecommunications and DVDs. The sector in Scotland pursues valuable opportunities through ventures such as SU2P, a partnership between institutions in Scotland and California for converting dynamic research in lasers and optics into commercial ventures. It is based in the Institute of Photonics at Strathclyde.
Mr Mather said: "The laser is integral to modern industry- supporting high-value manufacturing, world-class research and highly skilled jobs. The 50 Years of Lasers in Scotland document highlights this sector's importance to the Scottish economy - with laser-enabled photonic sales contributing £660 million last year.
"It's great to be here to celebrate 50 years of the laser and to reiterate the Scottish Government's commitment to doing all we can to support businesses, to encourage innovation, and to facilitate operation in the global marketplace."
Strathclyde’s Deputy Principal, Professor Allister Ferguson, said: “The new study confirms that Scotland has a robust lasers industry with vast potential for even further growth. In the current economic climate, the many strengths of this sector have an enormous contribution to make to securing future prosperity.
“Strathclyde and other Scottish universities have an active, innovative research base in lasers and produce a high calibre of graduates, who have extensive opportunities open to them through the high concentration of laser companies in Scotland.
“The participation of three Nobel Physics laureates in our celebration is an endorsement of Scotland’s academic base and thriving lasers industry. We have had great pleasure in welcoming them here.”
Chris Dorman, General Manager of Coherent Scotland and Chairman of the Scottish Optoelectronics Association, said: “Scotland has had a remarkable impact on the development of laser technology over the last 50 years and this has had an equally remarkable impact on the Scottish economy.
“Every mobile phone, laptop and high-definition TV is manufactured using precision laser processes. None of these, or many of today’s medical and communications devices, can be manufactured without laser technology. Lasers will continue to lead the frontiers of science and innovation and Scotland will continue to play a leading role in these future developments.”
The report on Scotland’s laser sector also shows that:
Most of the companies export more than 85% of their products
Up to 20% of the laser companies’ workforce are postgraduates, making it a highly knowledge- intensive sector
Scotland’s laser companies invest an average of 5% in research and development
Laser-enabled photonics sales have increased every decade since 1960s
Owing to the presence of multinational companies such as Thales, SELEX Galileo and Coherent, Scotland can claim to be a world leader in the design, development and manufacture of high-value lasers and systems.
The report’s author, Jacqueline Hewett, said: “Scotland has both a strong academic base and a thriving laser industry that manufactures cutting edge technology which is exported the world over.
“The country’s flair for innovation, engineering and manufacturing ensures that some of today’s most sophisticated lasers and laser-based systems are designed, developed and manufactured on its shores.”
Dr Chu spoke on solutions for sustainable energy at the lasers event. Professor Cornell, joint Nobel Prize in Physics winner in 2001, and Professor Glauber, who jointly won the award in 2005, both spoke on quantum optics, the study of electrodynamic interactions between light and matter.
The 50 Years of Lasers in Scotland report was commissioned by a consortium of laser-based industry partners.
A National Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Laser has been organized by University of Strathclyde’s Department of Physics, in cooperation with the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance, The Institute of Physics, SPIE, OSA and the IEEE Photonics Society.
Financial support for A National Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Laser has been provided by the University of Strathclyde, Scottish Enterprise, Thales, Coherent, Edinburgh Instruments, the Scottish Optoelectronics Association, Optos, M Squared and SELEX Galileo.
A National Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Laser has been run in parallel with Strathclyde Expo ’10, an event showcasing innovative research from the University to business representatives, policy-makers and third sector organisations.
Source: University of Strathclyde