Nobel laureates urge European Commission to prioritise photonics funding

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Stefan Hell, Gérard Mourou and Theodor Hansch, Nobel prize winning scientists behind major photonics breakthroughs, have warned that the sector could be seriously compromised if it is not included in the Horizon Europe draft funding priority list.

In an open letter to the European Commission, the Nobel laureates have heavily criticised the decision not to include photonics – an area that is set to create one million new jobs in Europe by 2030 –  as a specific visible objective within the next €100 billion research and innovation programme.

'Photonics technologies are simply absent from the list of nine priority areas of intervention for the future Commission within the Horizon Europe cluster on Industry and Digital,' the letter states. 'Photonics... is essential for powering the future European digital economy and will underpin as yet undiscovered advances in many other sectors such as health, space, mobility and security,' the letter continued. 

Photonics production, according to a recent publication could triple to more than €200 billion in Europe by 2030, providing key components to future developments in driverless cars, healthcare, food production, and Industry 4.0, if the technology is maintained by the EU as a key funding priority through Horizon Europe.

The letter, addressed to Commissioner Gabriel and Commissioner Moedas and signed by Nobel Prize winners in Physics and Chemistry, says that deprioritising photonics 'would be a serious strategic mistake'.

The scientists point out that the photonics sector has gained a world-leading position, with an impressive number of European Nobel Prizes awarded as a direct result of the investment and specialist status given to light technologies through Horizon 2020.

Recognising nine ‘areas of intervention’ in the Digital and Industry Cluster, the open letter recommends photonics be considered as the tenth technology priority.

'We explicitly call on the European Commission to reconsider the current draft programming for the Cluster on Industry and Digital within the future Horizon programme and include photonics as the tenth area of intervention, the tenth priority, in this industry cluster,' the scientists say. 

Among the signatories were:

  • Professor Gérard Albert Mourou, a Physics Nobel Prize winner for the invention of ‘chirped pulse amplification’ a technique used to create ultrashort-pulse, very high-intensity petawatt laser pulses.
  • Professor Stefan W Hell who developed a method in which one light pulse causes fluorescent molecules to glow, while another causes all molecules except those in a very narrow area to become dark.
  • Professor Theodor W Hansch, whose work on the ‘optical frequency comb’ technique won him, along with John L Hall and Roy J Glauber, a joint Nobel Prize.

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