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Nobel Laureates warn jobs, economic growth, and lifesaving healthcare at risk due to proposed EC science budget cuts


29 Oct 2020


Health & Consumers

Three of the world’s most eminent scientists have criticised the European Commission’s intention to drastically cut photonics funding over the next seven years. Digital innovation which drives economic growth and creates jobs all across Europe will be at risk if the budget to fund the enabling technologies in photonics is slashed.

In a stark warning, the Nobel Prize Winners say cutting investment in photonics – which is essential for powering high critical sectors like health, aerospace and transport – will be disastrous for Europe’s technological goals.

In an open letter to the European Commission, the Nobel laureates have heavily criticised the decision to make a 30% reduction in funding support by European Commission for a future Photonics Partnership 2021-2027 in Horizon Europe, the successor to the current Horizon 2020 programme.

The letter – addressed to Vice-President Commissioner Vestager, Commissioner Breton, Commissioner Gabriel and the College of European Commissioners – says the cuts will seriously compromise initiatives that are strategically important to ensure Europe’s competitiveness.

Without adequate funding, the Laureates who include Professor Gérard Albert Mourou, Professor Stefan W. Hell, and Professor Theodor W. Hänsch– all Nobel Prize winners for their work in the field of Photonics sciences – warn the four overarching European Union objectives will be seriously scuppered.

“There can be no Europe fit for a Digital Age, no full digital sovereignty and no ultra-secure sovereign quantum computing enabled cybersecurity without photonics technologies” say the Nobel Prize winners in Physics and Chemistry.

Photonics technologies are recognised as essential to support and advance four over-arching European Union objectives: the digital transformation of Europe industry; achieving the European Green deal and a sustainable EU future; the establishment of a future sovereign and resilient European digital infrastructure and, strengthening strategic value chains across key sectors.

Not Consistent

Condemning the move as ‘not consistent with the planned support for other key digital partnerships’, the Nobel Laureates highlight the proposed figure would represent only 35% of the Photonics industry requested budget for 2021-2027.

The current figure proposed by the Commission for a new Photonics PPP is in the range of €500 million. If confirmed, this represents a cut of over 30% on the already previous minimal budget of €700 million 2014-2020.

While the current Photonics PPP was funded to the sum of €700 million over seven years –already one of the smallest budgets for a key digital technology PPP over the period 2014-2020 – the allocated budget for the Microelectronics PPP was €2.5 billion over the same period.

The recent European Commission industry strategy “A New Industrial Strategy for Europe” clearly recognized Photonics technologies as a key enabling technology for the digital transformation of European industry stating, “The EU will support the development of key enabling technologies that are strategically important for Europe’s industrial future…including Photonics“.

The European Investment Bank in a separate communication identified Photonics as one of the two key digital deep technologies that will provide the secure, sovereign and resilient digital infrastructure necessary for Europe.

Equally, Photonics is now considered as one of the "digital technologies critical for attaining the sustainability goals of the European Green Deal”; through revolutionizing energy generation and energy conservation, along with distance monitoring the effects of both, on the environment and climate.

The signatories are:

  • Professor Gérard Albert Mourou, a Physics Nobel Prize winner for the invention of ‘chirped pulse amplification’ a technique used to create ultrashort-pulse, very high-intensity petawatt laser pulses.
  • Professor Stefan W. Hell who developed a method in which one light pulse causes fluorescent molecules to glow, while another causes all molecules except those in a very narrow area to become dark.
  • Professor Theodor W. Hänsch, whose work on the ‘optical frequency comb’ technique won him, along with John L. Hall and Roy J. Glauber, a joint Nobel Prize.