Press Release

Smart Optics: From Giant Telescopes to Bionic Eyes

By SpaceRef Editor
August 20, 2001
Filed under , ,

Sira Electro-Optics Ltd, the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of University College London and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh have won a prestigious Faraday Partnership award in ‘Smart Optics’.

This award brings £1.2M from the DTI and access to £1M of earmarked research grant support, with equal shares provided by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The partnership will develop, promote and exploit ‘Smart Optics’ technologies for the benefit of UK industry and research, through via R&D, conferences, training and technology awareness marketing.

‘Smart Optics’ includes any optical system that can be controlled or adjusted dynamically to enhance its performance. Applications of ‘Smart Optics’ are expected to include artificial eyes, high-speed telecommunication links, ophthalmic instrumentation, military imaging, semiconductor lithography, and industrial laser systems. One exciting example employs systems of deformable mirrors and wavefront sensors to correct for optical disturbances in the atmosphere through which large ground based telescopes must peer. This technique has succeeded in producing even sharper and clearer images than the Hubble Space Telescope! Further development work will improve performance and reduce the cost for the next generation of giant telescopes.

The UK’s leading academic institutions in optics bring world-class expertise to the Faraday Partnership. Gordon Love, Lecturer at Durham University School of Physics, is excited about the opportunity this presents to the UK. He says ” Optics technology is undergoing a renaissance. New ways of manipulating light are enabling a new generation of optical instruments to emerge, ranging from huge telescopes to intelligent microscopes. How can these new developments in instrumentation for fundamental research be used commercially? The Smart Optics Faraday Partnership will bring together experts in optics from UK companies and universities to work together on smart ways of using optics in fields ranging from optical communications to medical imaging.”

Commenting on the award Professor Ian Halliday, Chief Executive of PPARC said,” Smart Optics is adding a major enhancement to our existing ground-based astronomy facilities and will maximise our investment and scientific return from future generations of exceedingly large telescopes. Technology developments in fundamental physics have a history of spawning applications in other areas of science and industry, and I am extremely pleased to see that this particular technology will be exploited by academia and industry to the wider benefit of UK plc”.

Sira and its partners would like to hear from potential users, technology suppliers, and students desiring to participate in this exciting cutting-edge technology programme. Contact: Jon Holmes, Sira Electro-Optics Ltd 020 8467 2636

Notes for Editors


An artist’s impression of the Smart Optics equipped OWL (Overwhelmingly Large Telescope), courtesy ESO, can be downloaded from the PPARC web site .
Alternatively, please contact Gill Ormrod on 01793 442012 or email


Gill Ormrod – PPARC Press Office Tel: 01793 442012

Susan Lansdowne – Business and Partnership Schemes Manager Technology and Industry Group, PPARC Tel: 01793 442056

Gordon Love – School of Physics, University of Durham Tel: 0191 374 7496

Jane Reck – EPSRC Press Office 01793 444312

Notes to Editors

1. The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC)

The UKATC in Edinburgh is the primary focus of ground based astronomy technology development within the UK.

The UKATC has been responsible for a series of world-class instruments for telescopes in Hawaii, Chile and La Palma, and manages the UK Gemini Programme and the VISTA telescope development. The success of these instruments is due to strong project management, close interaction with scientific requirements, and professional engineering teams with expertise in opto-mechanical design, cryogenics, electronics and software engineering. The UK ATC is involved in the conceptual stages of major future projects such as the Next Generation Space Telescope and the Extremely Large Telescope. As such it is keen to promote the development of new technologies which would improve UK industry’s ability to contribute to these projects.

Contact: Mr Colin Cunningham, Director, Smart Optics Ground Based Applications, UK ATC Tel: 0131 668 8223. Email:

2. Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), UCL

MSSL is the UK’s largest university based space research group and has an excellent track record in the development of optical systems for space.

The Laboratory is the Principal Investigator group for the ESA Newton Observatory Optical Monitor telescope and undertakes research in autonomous, high performance optical systems, image intensifiers, CCD’s and cryogenic detectors. It is host to UCL’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation Systems (CAIS), an interdisciplinary organisation that promotes UCL’s skills and expertise to industry through an industrial club and collaborative research projects. CAIS acts as the academic focus for the Sira/UCL Postgraduate Training Partnership, which is now an integral part of the INTErSECT and Smart Optics Faraday Partnerships.

Contact: Professor Alan Smith, Director, Space Applications Tel: 01483 204147. Email:

3. Sira

Sira is one of Europe’s leading independent Research and Technology Organisations (RTO) specialising in electro-optical systems.

Sira’s domain includes electro-optics, sensing, sensor-related information processing, imaging, image quality measurement, artificial intelligence, man machine interfacing and systems design. Sira has an extensive customer base, including industrial, defence and space companies, with a 25-year heritage of successful satellite instrumentation. In addition to fostering technical innovation in its projects, Sira operates a range of training courses in related technical subjects. Sira is a hub partner of the Sira-NPL INTErSECT and the Sira-NEL Imaging Faraday Partnerships.

Contacts: Mr Steve Pickering, Partnership Director Tel: 020 8467 2636. Email

Mr Jon Holmes, Partnership Manager Tel: 020 8467 2636. Email

4. Preliminary list of academic and industrial partners Astrium Barr Associates Ltd CDL Systems Ltd CLRC (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) CRL Opto Davin Optronics Ltd DERA Exitech Heriot-Watt University Imperial College Liverpool John Moores University Keeler Ltd Oxford Instruments Precision-Optical Engineering Qi3 Ltd Starpoint Adaptive Optics Telescope Technologies Limited Thales Optronics University of Durham University of Oxford Virtual Infrared Ltd

5. The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK’s strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four broad areas of science – particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN, and the European Space Agency. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.

PPARC’s Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Scheme provides funding to both small local projects and national initiatives aimed at improving public understanding of its areas of science

6. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the largest of the United Kingdom’s seven government-funded research councils. Its mission is to support the highest quality research and related postgraduate training in engineering and physical sciences. EPSRC aims to advance knowledge and technology and to provide trained engineers and scientists for the benefit of the United Kingdom and the quality of life of its citizens. It has the further role of promoting public awareness of engineering and the physical sciences. The web site address for more information about EPSRC is:

Mrs Gill Ormrod
Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
01793 442012

SpaceRef staff editor.