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Research through the Oxford Photonics Network has led to a wide range of innovative photonic technology, and there is significant potential for industrial exploitation. However, it is difficult for individual research groups to respond at short notice to opportunities that may facilitate impact in the industrial sector. Using EPSRC IAA funding, Professor Martin Booth set up the Optical Systems Engineering Group (OSEG) in the Department of Engineering Science, specifically to address this gap.

Microscopic photonic images

The aim of OSEG is to transfer technology from research labs to industrial applications. The group provides technical demonstrations of photonic methods and enhances existing technologies to access new commercial markets. It also provides optical instrument services to other academics to expand their research capabilities, and seeds activities that will lead to adoption of technology by industrial partners. The group has undertaken over 20 projects between 2014 and 2017, ranging from 2-day application trials to long-term technology support projects that are industry-driven or early stage impact development.

Industry-led projects have included research into novel microscopic imaging methods for industrial processes, bespoke biomedical imaging tools, and laser marking inside materials for security operations. Several of these projects have been funded by the research departments of major multi-national companies. Some of this work has led to the foundation of a new University spinout company, Opsydia Ltd., which will provide production and instrumentation services based upon the work done in the group.

OSEG’s work is also fostering collaboration between departments at the University of Oxford. A particular success has been the development of cutting-edge microscopes for biomedical research. The group is now supporting technology development in various research groups across departments including Pharmacology, Biochemistry, the Institute of Molecular Medicine, and Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics. Having a central team of highly experienced optics and photonics engineers has been key to building up the necessary expertise and momentum for this venture.

The ongoing success of OSEG has shown that it is sustainable. The group has played a central role in securing significant funding from external sources, including equipment costs, overheads and research engineer salaries. A large portion of the work is funded by external industrial partners, which allows full overhead recovery (or more) on the projects. The projects undertaken by the Optical Systems Engineering Group strongly support the development of commercial impact from the Department of Engineering Science’s research, as well as the development of research in other departments.

‘Professor Booth’s work through the OSEG has provided technology which underpins commercial applications in security marking markets, which have been fundamental to the formation of Opsydia. It has provided the company with technology developed to demonstrator stage enabling it to gain early engagements with end users and attract seed investment.’        

-          Andrew Rimmer, CEO Opsydia Ltd.