Group investigates uses for photonics across industries

The Canadian Institute for Photonic Innovations (CIPI) has launched a new program to bring together photonics companies, those in other industries and university researchers.

The Innovative Photonic Applications (IPA) program is designed to identify ways in which photonics and optics companies can help their counterparts in other industries, said Robert Corriveau, president and chief executive officer of CIPI in Laval, Que. It will identify specific needs in several industries, and then match those companies with Canadian companies and academic researchers who can help them.

The photonics companies will be able to develop products out of the work they do under the program, Corriveau said. Both photonics companies and universities will retain rights to intellectual property arising from their research. CIPI will provide funding to university researchers involved in the projects.

Photonics has uses in many industry sectors
Photonics is the technology of transmitting and controlling light for various purposes, including transmitting data over optical fibre. According to Putting Light to Work, a discussion paper on the Canadian photonics sector published last year by the Canadian Photonics Consortium, Canada’s photonics industry is made up of about 250 photonics-related companies. Some 70 government and academic institutions are also doing work in this area.

Photonics in Canada is most often identified with the telecommunications industry, where companies such as Nortel Networks Corp. and JDS Uniphase are major players in technologies that depend on it, said Sylvain Charbonneau, director of applications technology at the National Research Council’s Institute of Microstructural Sciences in Ottawa. According to the Canadian Photonics Consortium, Canada supplied 41 per cent of the worldwide demand for optical components for telecommunications at the height of the “optical boom” in 2000. But photonics technology has uses in many other areas, Charbonneau said, from the auto industry to resource industries to health care.

Corriveau said the IPA program will focus initially on four industry sectors: automotive, food, forestry and aerospace.

The program kicked off in January when photonics researchers and their counterparts working with the food industry gathered to discuss possible applications of photonics to that sector. Corriveau said those possibilities include use of laser technology for cleaning and cutting and of fluorescence in inspecting food.

CIPI is planning a similar workshop focusing on the automotive industry in March and one on aerospace in May, he said.

In the forestry area, CIPI will be working with Forintek, a non-profit forestry-industry research organization, to identify possible photonics applications.

The greatest challenge, he said, will be private companies’ reluctance to discuss with others the problems photonics might be able to help them resolve. “It’s very difficult to get this type of information … because they need help but they don’t want to say in what area,” said Corriveau.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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