press release
Published: 13 September 2017

Professor Alf Adams awarded with the Guildford Roll of Honour

Professor Alf Adams, inventor of life-changing technology that boosted the digital revolution, has been awarded the 2017 Guildford Roll of Honour.

Professor Alf Adams

The Distinguished Professor of Physics, who has been at the University of Surrey since it was established in Guildford, invented the strained-layer quantum well laser while working at the University in 1986.

The basis of his findings helped to pave the way for everyday technologies such as DVD, CD and Blu-Ray players, supermarket barcodes and fibre optic broadband, as well as the internet. Strained lasers can also be used to identify chemicals in air pollution and can be used to identify molecules to help diagnose a range of diseases – from cancer to liver disease.

In a quantum well laser, there is an extremely thin layer in the semiconducting crystal where the laser light is generated. Professor Adams realised that, if this layer is grown with atoms which do not exactly fit, the strain would cause the electrons to produce a more controlled and concentrated beam of light that makes more efficient use of electricity. Professor Adams also found that strained-layer quantum well lasers can be switched on and off more quickly so that light pulses containing digital information can be passed down optical fibres at thousands of millions of times per second. 

Professor Adams’ invention is estimated to be worth billions of pounds – however, he never patented the idea as he wanted it to be used to benefit as many people as possible.

Professor Adams, said: “It’s a great honour for me to receive this very prestigious award. However, I could not have carried out the work for which I am being honoured without the support that I have received over the last 50 years from my wife Helga. Shortly after I met her she would get up at midnight and cycle from her house to the University of Karlsruhe to bring me food so that I could work right through the night. I knew straight away that I had met someone very special. So I am in fact celebrating a half century of three very wonderful relationships. One with the town of Guildford, one with the University of Surrey and one with my dear wife Helga.”

Professor Max Lu, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey, said: “During Professor Adams’ 50 years at the University of Surrey he has, of course, invented the strained-layer quantum well laser – but, just as importantly, he has inspired generations of students. Some have gone on to become leading physicists, such as Professors Stephen Sweeney and Jim Al-Khalili.

“Professor Adams’ career has been based on his outstanding commitment to scientific innovation, technological application, and excellence in higher education.”

Cllr Nigel Manning, Mayor of Guildford said: "I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to Professor Alf Adams for the achievement of being added to Guildford's Roll of Honour. This award recognises the importance of Professor Adams' work and the significant contribution to the University that he has made during the 50 years that he has worked there.

"We are very proud to support the Guildford Roll of Honour, which recognises the contribution of innovation, growth and development to our borough, by exceptional individuals. Those who receive the award are role models for the inventors, business leaders and entrepreneurs of the future."

The Guildford Roll of Honour award was presented to Professor Adams at a special ceremony at the Guildhall on Tuesday 12 September. Now in its sixth year, the award celebrates a small number of individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the economic wealth, social well-being or the artistic culture of Guildford and the surrounding region. The initiative is a joint venture between the University of Surrey and Guildford Borough Council.

Professor Adams joins an illustrious list of previous precipitants which include: Professor Sir Martin Sweeting, Peter Molyneux OBE, Professor Michael Bailey, Dato Dr Kim Tan and Perdita Hunt OBE. 


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