Professor Sir David Neil Payne, CBE, FRS, FREng



Professor at the University of Southampton and Director of the Zepler Institute for Photonics/Optoelectronics Research Centre.

Co-Director the Photonics Institute, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Chairman Emeritus of the Marconi Society

PI of the National Manufacturing Hub in Future Photonics

Prof. Payne is an internationally distinguished research pioneer in photonics, having been in the field for over 50 years. Optical fibre technology is one of the greatest scientific successes of the last three decades and Payne’s contributions are acknowledged as seminal in many areas.  Optical fibres underpin the internet, provide new laser capability and environmental sensing, and drive growth to the benefit of all nations.

Payne’s work spans many diverse areas of photonics, from telecommunications and optical sensors to nanophotonics and optical materials.  As others have noted, with his colleagues he has made many of the key technical achievements in almost every area of optical fibre technologies and his work has had a direct impact on worldwide telecommunications, as well as nearly all fields of optical R&D.  As a result, he is one of the most highly honored UK scientists in photonics.

David’s pioneering work in fibre fabrication in the 70’s resulted in almost all the special fibres in use today.  He led the team that in 1985 discovered the silica fibre laser and the Erbium-Doped Optical Amplifier (EDFA), the device that fueled an explosive growth on the internet through its ability to transmit and amplify vast amounts of data. It enabled the internet to be scaled to global dimensions.  The EDFA is widely regarded as being one of the foremost and most significant developments in modern telecommunications.

His current main research interest is high-power fibre lasers. With US funding, he led the team that to international acclaim broke the kilowatt barrier for fibre laser output and now holds many other fibre laser performance records. The fibre laser has revolutionized industrial processing and scientific applications and has seen rapid growth for application in manufacturing. Payne has made numerous leading contributions to these diverse fields.

Payne has published over 650 Conference and Journal papers and been awarded the top American, European and Japanese prizes in photonics. As well as the UK Rank Prize for Optics and the prestigious IEEE Tyndall Award, he is a Franklin Laureate (USA) (with Emmanuel Desurvire), an Eduard Rhein Laureate (Europe) and a Millennium Prize Laureate (with Emmanuel Desurvire & Randy Giles).  In 2013, he was Knighted for services to photonics in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours and in 2018 with his colleagues won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize that celebrates excellence, innovation and public benefit in work carried out by UK universities.

Prof Payne is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Indian Academy of Engineering, the Russian, Indian and Norwegian Academy of Sciences, the IET (UK), the IoP (UK) and the Optical Society of America (Optica).  Among many prizes, he has been awarded the Mountbatten Medal of the IEE (2001), the Kelvin Medal of the eight major engineering institutions for distinction in the application of science to engineering (2004), the IEEE Photonics Award (2007), the Marconi Prize (2008), the IEEE James Clerk Maxwell Award (2014) and the Leibinger Zukunftspreis (2022).

In addition to his Academic achievements, Payne is a leading entrepreneur.  He combines world-leading science with commercial activities and has been the driving force behind a cluster of 10 spinout companies in the Southampton area, creating wealth and employment.

An award that reflects his dual role in academia and industry is the AILU (Association of Laser Users) Award (2010). The Award recognises the major contribution that David has made in the development of industrial laser materials processing in the UK, both in his inventions in the field of fibre lasers and for his role in the establishment of Southampton Photonics Inc (SPI Lasers) in 2000 to exploit the technology developed by the Southampton Universities Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC).


By the early 1980’s optical fibres were seen as the future for telecommunications. However, while their loss is low, the optical signal still fades significantly and becomes undetectable after about 100km.  Consequently, the fibre had to be terminated, the optical signal detected and converted to an electrical one.  It was then amplified in a conventional electrical amplifier before being converted back to an optical signal in another laser transmitter.  This electrical ‘repeater’ acted rather like a tollgate on a freeway and limited the transmission to one optical channel only.  It was well known that optical fibres could simultaneously carry many independent optical wavelengths (or ‘colours’) without mixing them up, a process called Wavelength Division Multiplexing, or WDM.  But the electrical repeater saw all the channels as only one optical signal and would therefore scramble them, making the signals indistinguishable. To overcome this serious drawback, a practical all-optical amplifier was needed that could maintain the integrity of each optical channel and allow the full capacity of the fibre to be exploited.

To solve this problem, in 1985 the field of rare-earth-doped fibres, with focus on the 1.55µm telecom wavelength was revived under D. Payne’s leadership at the University of Southampton. Motivated by early reports from the Southampton group, and as an expert in (Raman) optical fibre amplification, E. Desurvire initiated research on Erbium-Doped Fibre Amplifiers (EDFA) at AT&T Bell Laboratories. In 1987, these teams published the first three seminal papers on the EDFA that clearly showed its remarkable potential as a high gain booster amplifier for use in the nascent optical fibre internet.

The effect of the Southampton/Bell Labs reports, continuously expanding at a breathtaking pace then rapidly joined by the international community, were electric; work virtually stopped on all competing technologies and turned to a worldwide race to commercialise the new amplifier.  One should also recognise the key contributions made by NTT – Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, Japan in making the EDFA into a practical reality through their work on diode pumping.

The discovery, invention and early development of practical fibre amplifiers revolutionized modern telecommunications, both in capacity (bandwidth) and global reach. The Internet could not have been deployed without the nearly one billion kms of optical fibres that today carry 99% of internet traffic. Not only did the EDFA promise to fully exploit fibre bandwidth (some 100 THz or about 500 Tbit/s coherent signalling) opening “de facto” the way to WDM, but also its energy consumption is minimal, close to the limits set by physics.

The backbone of the internet was made physically possible by transoceanic and continental fibre-optic links in which in-line EDFAs regenerate the information signals every 50-100 km, without distortion nor capacity bottleneck of the huge fibre bandwidth. In remote islands or coastal areas, special configurations of EDFA boosters and preamplifiers permit internet transmission over more than 300 km of passive fibre, thus allowing remote populations to communicate at speeds enormously greater than that of previous satellite or submarine cables.

Currently, new fibre links with EDFA repeaters are being deployed at a rate of over 400M km per year, connecting urban, suburban and village areas to the rest of the world.



On a global scale, both transcontinental and transoceanic (except for small and sparsely populated areas covered by satellites), all the way to Fibre-to-the-Home and Enterprise.  Even wireless (5G) networks depend upon local-area fiber-optic networks for access and antenna feeds. Humankind and societal, governmental, economical, security and defence, for all telecom services (public, private, corporate or restricted) provided by the World Wide Web.


The EDFA allowed the transformation of previous global networks using old-fashioned electrical repeaters by super-fast all-optical repeaters that do not require light to electrical conversion.  The EDFA is capable of boosting optical signals by as much as 10,000 times with a capacity of 200 Tbit/s in a single fibre strand. Without the EDFA, the Internet would have been limited to some 40-100 Gbit/s cable capacity between continents, leading to a horrendous or unaffordable Worldwide Wait! Despite being 35 years old, no technology is yet in sight that can compete with the EDFA. The WWW has transformed both society and the economy, from TCP/IP to upper service layers such as email, attachments, clouds, data centers, web pages and web services. None of this would be possible without the EDFA that is essential to the hardware that transports the internet. Today, new optical fibre links are being deployed worldwide at an annual rate in excess of 400 million kilometers – twenty times the speed of sound! And each year the WWW transmits nearly 5,000 Petabytes (5 million Gigabytes) that traverses the EDFA every 50-100 km of any fibre path.


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