Aston University recognised in UK’s Best Breakthroughs list

Fibre Optics

 6 December 2018

  • Celebrating revolutionary research on high speed transfer of data
  • Aston research credited with enabling films to be streamed to TV
  • Aston recognised as part of a national campaign celebrating innovation

A revolutionary project by Aston University scientists has today been named as one of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs for its significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

Professor Nick Doran and his team from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is honoured in the UK’s Best Breakthroughs list of the last century for his pioneering work in long distance optical communications.

The project looked at ways in which the properties of light could be exploited to transmit vast amounts of data for thousands of kilometres through an optic fibre cable without information being lost along the way. The research led to the creation of a system which is now used worldwide to stream films to our TVs, transfer financial, business or medical information between computers over long distances and track the flows of money as it circulates through the economy.

The list of breakthroughs demonstrates how UK universities are at the forefront of some of the world’s most important discoveries, innovations and social initiatives, including the discovery of penicillin, work tackling plastic pollution, ultrasound scans to check the health of unborn babies and the establishment of the Living Wage.

The list also highlights the less celebrated but vital breakthroughs that transform lives, including a specially-designed bra to help women undergoing radiotherapy; a toilet that flushes human waste without the need for water; the development of a new scrum technique to make rugby safer; a sports initiative that aims to use football to resolve conflict in divided communities; - and even work to protect the quality of the chocolate we eat.

The list was compiled by Universities UK, the umbrella group for UK universities, as part of the MadeAtUni campaign to change public perceptions of universities and bring to life the difference they make to people, lives and communities across the UK.

It follows independent research undertaken by Britain Thinks which found that the public has little understanding of the benefits of universities beyond undergraduate teaching. The findings show that research is one of the key triggers to change opinion about universities but for many people, it is an abstract concept.

Andrew Ellis, Professor of Optical Communications, said: “It is a fantastic achievement for the university to be featured in the UK’s Best Breakthrough list. We’re extremely proud of the work that Professor Doran and his colleagues have done to benefit people’s lives and communities.

“The ongoing research into optical communications at the Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies is now more important than ever in order to mitigate a capacity crunch resulting from the continuously growing demand to transmit larger amounts of data more quickly and over longer distances.”

Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK, said: “Universities really do transform lives. The technology we use every day, the medicines that save lives, the teachers who inspire – all come from UK universities and the important work being done by academics.

“The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list is a testament to the difference that universities make to people’s lives and we want everyone to join us in celebrating the work they do.”

The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list: 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life was put together in partnership with universities across the UK. As part of the MadeAtUni campaign, every university in the country was invited to nominate the one thing from their institution which they believe has had the biggest impact on people, lives and communities. Over 100 universities submitted a nomination. The entries cover health, technology, environment, family, community and culture and sport.

You can read more about Aston's breakthrough research at our dedicated Made at Uni webpage


Notes to editors

About the Britain Thinks research

Britain Thinks polled 2,063 UK adults online between 30 May and 31 May 2018. Data was weighted to be representative of all UK adults.

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students.  Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice Chancellor & Chief Executive.

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