Carol Monaghan

Sir David Payne receives prestigious global award for his contributions to the internet

Sir David Payne, Principal Investigator of the Future Photonics Hub and Director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) has been awarded a major international prize in Hanoi, Vietnam. He received the VinFuture Foundation Grand Prize in recognition of his breakthrough in the erbium-doped fibre amplifier (EDFA), which made possible the internet optical backbone.

Under the theme ‘Reviving and Reshaping’, the prestigious Grand Prize, which is in its second year, aims to find and celebrate outstanding science and technology achievements that create positive changes for people. Each of this year’s five winners, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web software and wrote the first web browser; Dr Vinton Gray Cerf and Dr Robert Elliot Kahn who invented the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP); and Dr Emmanuel Desurvire, who contributed to the EDFA development, will share a prize of $3m in recognition of their contributions to quality of life.

Thirty-five years ago, Sir David and his team at Southampton made one of the most significant developments in modern telecommunications. His development of the erbium doped fibre amplifier (EDFA) – the world’s first successful optical amplifier, which employs the rare earth ion erbium to boost the intensity of the signals as they spread through the billion-km world wide web of optical fibres – still plays a pivotal role in our global communications, 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.

One of the most highly recognised scientists in the UK, Sir David remains at the heart of this pioneering work. He has received numerous awards and international recognition over his prestigious 50+ year career. As well as his knighthood, he has also received the Marconi Society Prize and Fellowship for his pioneering work in fibre optoelectronics and fibre telecommunications.

Upon receiving the prize from VinFuture, Sir David said: “VinFuture 2022 is a great prize. Beyond the goal of honouring science–technology inventions, the prize also serves as a bridge connecting the brilliant minds of scientists, contributing to collaboration on breakthrough ideas and helping to change the lives of millions of people across the world. To me, the greatest accolade is recognition by my peers, by other scientists. To be on the same platform with Tim Berners-Lee, Vinton Cerf, and other prize winners is absolutely incredible for me. As I’m approaching the end of my career, I can now look back and say, I did something that changed the world. That is important to me.”