Published: 21 March 2013

Recognition for the man who changed our digital world

Professor Alf Adams’ work on the strained-layer quantum-well laser has changed the world we live in. No wonder his work is regarded by experts as one of the top ten greatest UK scientific breakthroughs of all time…

Without Alf Adams, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Surrey, the digital world we now inhabit would have been very different. This isn’t hyperbole. The internet, DVDs, computer memory, supermarket checkouts – all rely on Adams’ discovery of the strained-layer quantum-well laser.

It is an outstanding achievement that has been deservedly rewarded with an Honorary Fellowship of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Alf’s breakthrough was voted as one of the UK’s top ten scientific discoveries of all time by academics.

Semiconductor lasers have been a major interest for Professor Adams for 30 years. His eureka moment came in 1986 during a quiet walk along a Bournemouth beach. Adams realised that the electronic band structure of quantum well lasers could be significantly improved by deliberately growing the active layer in a state of strain. Greatly enhancing many of the laser’s properties, this allowed for a more concentrated beam of light.

“I am delighted and feel greatly honoured to receive this very prestigious award,” says Professor Adams, who joined the University back in 1967. “However, I would like to acknowledge the considerable efforts of the many other engineers whose ingenuity has made it possible for strained-layer quantum-well lasers to find such a myriad of applications.”

IET President, Professor Andy Hopper CBE, commended Adams, and fellow recipients of Honorary Fellowships, on their achievements: “I am delighted that we are able to mark these outstanding individuals with the IET’s highest honour. Their contribution to science, engineering and technology is immense and their positive influence is felt by us all every day, right across the world.”

Today, inspired by Adams’ work, researchers in the University’s Advanced Technology Institute and Department of Physics are working hard to develop new, faster and more efficient laser technologies.

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