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Professor Philip Russell
Professor Philip Russell
Professor Russell's notes made immediately after he thought of the idea of a photonic crystal fibre
Professor Russell's notes made immediately after he thought of the idea of a photonic crystal fibre - click image for larger view

Press Release - 07 June 2005

Philip Russell is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society

Professor Philip Russell of the University of Bath, the inspiration behind photonic crystal fibre, has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, the UK’s highest scientific honour.

Professor Russell, who has worked at the University’s Department of Physics since 1996, was one of 44 scientists from the UK and the Commonwealth elected to the Society, whose members have included Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Current Fellows of the Royal Society, which was founded in 1660, include Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Sir Harry Kroto, Tim Berners Lee and Sir John Sulston.

Professor Russell said: “It is a great honour to be made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and it reflects the outstanding work of past and present members of the Photonics and Photonic Materials Group at the University.”

Photonic crystal fibre was proposed in 1991 by Professor Russell, and consists of a hair-thin strand of glass with a series of tiny microscopic air channels running along its length.

The air holes transform otherwise normal glass into an extraordinary new optical material with new properties, enabling optical effects which were previously thought to be impossible. The work is expected to lead to dramatic improvements in the power and flexibility of lasers, giving new sources of light with dramatically enhanced efficiency.

The group was recently awarded a grant for over £2.68 million to further its research. Eight researchers started work on the four-year project in April to carry out fundamental work which will have an impact in many areas of engineering and technology, including light sources, optical telecommunications, ultra-violet light and x-ray generation, atomic and quantum physics and astronomical imaging.

This grant will allow the group to explore new research topics that have been opened up by their discoveries. These include the use of photonic crystal fibres as tiny pipes down which one can pass small particles which are trapped and pushed along by the flow of light. This technique can be used in biomedicine for transporting cells and viruses in water-filled hollow-core photonic crystal fibre.

Professor Russell obtained his DPhil at the University of Oxford and subsequently worked in research laboratories and universities in Germany, the USA, France and the UK before coming to Bath in 1996. He has over 500 publications and holds a substantial number of patents in many aspects of photonics.

He first had his idea for photonic crystal fibres while attending a scientific conference in California in May 1991; he was half-listening to a speaker and suddenly had the thought that inspired his research. It took four years of persistence to raise funding for and then develop the first photonic crystal fibre.

At first the concept was so revolutionary that several of the early papers were at first rejected for publication in leading scientific journals, though they were subsequently accepted. It is only in the last six years that the idea has gained widespread acceptance.

“People would say ‘you’re mad’ sometimes, and it was very important not to let this knock us back,” said Professor Russell. “In the end you need persistence to get a new idea accepted.

“But the fibres have such a wide range of potential applications that many scientists have now heard of our work here, and I think that was one of the reasons behind the Royal Society’s decision.

“I’ve found the atmosphere at Bath very supportive, and I’ve been free to pursue my research without interruption.”


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