They are as small as a grain of rice, but enveloped in enormous ambitions. The region’s new gold, experts say. And indispensable if we want to connect our lives more and more to the internet. Photonic chips are estimated to increase to a market size of 615 billion euros by 2020, and Eindhoven knowledge institutes and businesses play an important role in getting there. So the future looks promising, but we certainly don’t have to wait for it, says Pieter Hermans. His PHAPPS Week is a showcase of what can already be done with photons.

‘You won’t find any photos of cleanrooms here’, says Hermans while he opens his laptop and goes to the PHAPPS Week website. PHAPPS stands for photonics applications. PHAPPS is one of the events he organizes with his company Jakajima. The focus is always on innovations in the high-tech sector. ‘By bringing together innovators from different industries, we create new collaborations and products.’

Monitoring of dikes
The first edition of PHAPPS Week was last year. The next one is planned for October. More than just a conference, Hermans wants to make it a widely supported event. A kind of Dutch Design Week for photonics, focussing on the applications of light technology.

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    Because that is quite simply what photonics is. By manipulating light you can use it to send data or use it for sensing and monitoring. On the one hand, photonics makes existing applications more efficient. For example, much faster internet with considerably less energy consumption. On the other hand, it offers new opportunities for many other sectors. Like early detection of cancer, autonomous driving, monitoring of dikes or the prevention of crop diseases.

    Photonic chips
    The potential of light technology is not exactly a secret. The European Commission calls photonics one of the six key enabling technologies for the future. (‘What the electron did for the 20th century, with advances in electronics and electricity, so will the photon do for technology of the 21st century with photonics.’) Last year, government, knowledge institutions and companies made 236 million euros available to PhotonDelta. Full speed ahead with the development of photonics.

    With PHAPPS Week Hermans is presenting opportunities that he already sees for the business community. ‘By applying photonics now, we can accelerate developments in the market too and stimulate the production of chips on a larger scale.’

    He sees parallels with electronics too. ‘It took decades of development to come to the tiny electronic chip we know today. But before that, electronic products were already being developed and sold. Initially with large electron tubes in them and later with transistors. So it takes time before photonic chips are produced on a large scale.’

    Photonics is everywhere
    Hermans mentions a number of examples of photonic technology that we already know. ‘Light technology is used a lot, although few people know that this is photonics. It covers a whole spectrum of radiation that we use every day, from gamma to x-ray and from ultraviolet to infrared. The second one is used, for example, in X-ray machines, the latter in something as simple as a heat lamp. Solar panels are also a good example of how photons are converted into electricity.’

    ‘The next step in the development is connecting with companies that currently do not sufficiently understand the benefits of photonics’, says Ewit Roos, managing director of Photon Delta, in a previous interview with IO. ‘It is now time to approach the non-photonic companies that we believe can benefit from some form of integrated photonics (…).’

    New applications
    It’s basically the idea behind PHAPPS Week. An event for business professionals who want to know more about the practical applications of photonics in their industry. To bring together farmers, doctors and experts from IT, biotech and aviation on the one hand and photonics companies on the other. ‘To create new applications together and to start working on a technology that will only become more important.’

    Therefore, you will not find images of cleanrooms on the PHAPPS Week site. It is all about grain fields, hospitals and cities where photons can shine.

    PHAPPS Week 2019 takes place from 30 September – 4 October in Eindhoven. External parties can also host a business-to-business photonics event (such as a demo, lecture, hackathon or expo) during this week. For more information, please visit the site.

    © Photo Jakajima

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    Author profile picture Renske Mehra is a writer. She makes understandable and interesting stories about difficult subjects.