Something to do with light


Yesterday, I talked to someone from Microsoft over the telephone who asked me: “Photonics, that has something to do with light, right?” This person had some inkling, but failed to fully grasp the meaning. When he found out that Eindhoven is leading in the field of photonics, it slowly began to dawn on him. “Ah Eindhoven, the City of Light yes.”

Without light bulbs there wouldn’t be light, and without light we wouldn’t have ASML or NXP. I guess it’s fair to say that Eindhoven and light are inextricably linked. Electronic chips are almost all produced at an atomic level these days and have truly almost reached the limit. Many believe that photonics is the next step towards keeping Moore’s law alive.

Light particles – photons – are faster than electrons, and they contain more characteristics. That makes them ideally suited to transport information in an energy-efficient way. Photonics has stepped out of the shadows. Satisfying the energy hunger of data centers and self-driving cars are just two examples of how photonics has paved the way.

Why is it then that these chips still aren’t in my mobile phone, so that my battery can last a week instead of just one day? Why is it that coal-fired power plants need to reopen when we can save energy with these chips? Producing photonic and electronic chips is one the world’s most complex production processes. That’s why only a handful of companies have the capacity to produce these chips.

There’s no question that this new technology will have a significant impact on our lives. It’s not a matter of if, but of when will it happen. The European Union, the Dutch government and Brainport: they are all fully committed to this new technology.

The more I learn about photonics, the more excited I get. It seems increasingly likely that the Netherlands will become a global leader in the field of photonics. And perhaps we will say over the phone a couple of years from now: ‘Microsoft, that has something to do with software, right?’

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