ATSE Focus magazine

Focus 199: Blue sky future for Australia

ATSE Focus is produced to stimulate discussion and public policy initiatives on key topics of interest to the Academy and Australia. Many articles are contributed by ATSE Fellows with expertise in these areas.

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Page 10 of 51 9 DECEMBER 2016 | FOCUS areas – health and medicine, defence and security, infrastructure and transport, and energy and the environment. In these areas, photonic sensors are enabling new smart technologies that can sense and monitor the health of people, infrastructure and the environment. Photonics sensing has been around for a long time. There are numerous examples of highly successful photonic sensors that have been deployed extensively – fibre optics that run along railway lines to measure strain and inform maintenance planning; sensors that are deployed in the mining industry to detect toxins; and current sensors that are used widely in the power industry. Australia has a long history of leading- edge research and innovation in photonics sensors with numerous world-leading groups and centres across Australia. RESEARCH EMPHASIS With the advent of nanotechnology and the establishment of major nanofabrication infrastructure in Australia, the research impetus is to establish new smart sensors that are small enough and low cost enough that they can be distributed everywhere and can A person with a casual interest in optical science could be excused for believing that it is a modern field of study, originating in the 20th century. Although the invention of the laser and optical fibres dates only from the 1960s, the history of optical science actually stretches back thousands of years. Most recently this rich history was explored in the International Year of Light in 2015, a celebration of both the history of optical and photonic research and the bright future offered by this important discipline. The truly revolutionary inventions of the laser and optical fibres in the 20th century were a major advance in the field, continuously transforming our communication systems and the ways in which modern humans can interact as a species. Our 21st century is poised to be an era which will be defined by photonics and nanotechnology. It may seem that the global internet enabled by these technologies is already revolutionary enough, but we are only just at the beginning of the transformative opportunities offered by this technology. Australia is well positioned to play a leading role in this future, both in terms of our capacity for fundamental discoveries and translation into new real-world technologies such as photonic sensing. We know that photonics is the linchpin of a multi-trillion-dollar industry and itself a $500 billion global industry and an essential part of the Australian research ecosystem. As well as underpinning the telecommunications infrastructure, photonics technologies are playing critical roles in other Sensing our way to a bright future AUSTRALIA'S BLUE-SKY FUTURE A multi-trillion-dollar industry – and we're right in the middle of it. address the grand challenges of the future. The NSW Government, through the leadership of our Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O'Kane AC FTSE, has invested in the NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN), a collaboration between the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales which I co-direct with Professor Justin Gooding from the University of NSW. The Network will harness the state's significant scientific, information communication technology (ICT) and engineering capabilities across academia and industry to provide state-of-the-art solutions in chemical and physical sensing to help address major societal issues, from A BY BEN EGGLETON In its most basic sense, photonics considers the generation, transmission and detection of photons, the building blocks of light. What we can build with these blocks is truly amazing. Our future in our fingers – the silicon chip.

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