Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies

Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies

Unique facilities and technical expertise in optical sensing, high-speed optical communications and machine learning to interconnect the digital built environment.

AIPT is one of the largest photonics research centres in the UK, with approaching 100 staff and current grant funding amounting to £30m, supporting around 60 projects. AIPT’s success has been built on significant achievements in high-speed optical transmission, digital signal processing (including low complexity machine learning techniques), wide-band amplification, nonlinear photonics, fibre grating technology, fibre lasers, bio- and medical photonics, and in various fibre optic sensing technologies and applications. AIPT maintains fertile collaborations with major industrial companies and world-leading academic institutions, has produced five spin-out companies, numerous highly cited research papers and 60 patents, all demonstrating excellence in the field. Since 2017 AIPT coordinated 8 European Innovative Training Networks - more than any other university in the UK in this period.

Optical sensing technologies are widely used to monitor civil infrastructure and urban systems, offering high sensitivity, a large variety of monitoring parameters, long sensing range, durability, and highly multiplexed or distributed sensing capabilities. AIPT research in optical sensing is built on the success of its predecessor - the Aston Photonics Research Groups - which pioneered a variety of fibre grating technologies and sensing applications. The range of sensor activities undertaken at Aston is extensive and includes novel devices, multiplexing and readout schemes, and array architectures; the application areas addressed include aerospace, marine, bio/chemical and environmental, defence, medical, infrastructure, and transport.

New research directions related to infrastructure sensing, where AIPT is looking for academic and industrial collaborators, include transforming the installed communications fibre-optic links into sensing systems and development and combination of optical signal processing and low-complexity machine learning algorithms for sensor data processing. Other recent fast-growing AIPT activities include sensing applications of optical frequency combs. Frequency combs are based on specialised lasers able to emit equally spaced, ultra-short light pulses in the femtosecond to picosecond range. This allows extremely precise and accurate frequency measurements, revolutionising a wide range of scientific and industrial fields, from spectroscopy and metrology to optical communications and astronomy.

Combining novel sensing interrogation techniques, such as frequency combs, with optical signal processing, digital data processing and machine learning will enable:

  • Ultra-sensitive measurements, including enhanced acoustic emission sensing (e.g. for early-warning of defects and deterioration assessment in soil and structures)
  • Multiplexed and multi-aspect sensing in a single setup due to wide frequency coverage (e.g. low-cost holistic-sensing systems, environmental sensing, sensor-fusion of strain, acceleration and acoustics, data-driven condition assessment of infrastructure)
  • Fast communication and distributed sensing of long lengths, and higher spatial and temporal resolution (e.g. enhanced sensing for cities and large infrastructure networks, cutting slopes, embankments, foundations, bridges, tunnels, pavements, rail tracks and wind turbine farms)
  • Enhanced 3d-shape sensing, dynamic motion interferometric monitoring and hyperspectral imaging (e.g. robots and infrastructure motion sensing, laser-based chemical analysis of materials, assessment of reinforced concrete carbonation and corrosion)


Who can use the facility Functions/facilities available

Academic researchers

Equipment, study space, meeting rooms

Industry (research and consultancy) Equipment, hot-desking space, meeting rooms
Fellowships and PhD Studentships Equipment, study space, hot-desking space, meeting rooms


Facility Highlights:

AIPT’s experimental work is carried out in over 30 laboratories covering 1500 square metres (overall recent investment >10M). Facilities for research on lasers, sensing and fibre optics include:

  • Labs for creating tailored optical sensors for Civil SHM applications (3 UV lasers for FBG inscription in silica and polymer fibres; 2 fs laser systems for waveguide, FBG inscription and micromachining; Surface Nanoscale Axial Photonics facility for making ultrasensitive resonant sensors; clean room; gas handling facility)
  • Fibre grating fabrication system, fast fibre grating interrogator (micron-optics), optical spectrum analysers and a wide range of light sources (including lasers and broadband light sources)
  • 3d-printing laboratory for sensor packaging and creation of miniature opto-mechanical devices, including two-photon polymerisation system for additive manufacturing with resolution ~100nm; additive manufacturing facility for prototype or housing fabrication (plastic, metal, ceramics, composites)
  • Sensing laboratories for characterising strain, temperature, vibration and (bio)chemical sensors
  • Imaging laboratory for materials characterisation, chemical analysis, environmental sensing, and damage assessment (microscopes, hyperspectral imaging system, environmental SEM, SNOM)

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Dr Haris Alexakis