Six members of the Optical Network Group (ONG) at UCL (University College London) are to be awarded the 2015 Royal Academy of Engineering’s prestigious Colin Campbell Mitchell Award for their pioneering contributions to optical communications technology. They will receive the award at the Academy’s Awards Dinner in London on 16 July.


One of the world’s foremost research teams in this area, the ONG has made revolutionary strides towards maximizing the capacity of fibre optic communication networks, a vital component of successfully transmitting ever-increasing quantities of information over both long- and short-distances.


Operating from a world-leading, unique research laboratory, the ONG was the first academic research group to undertake systems engineering research in multi-wavelength, high-capacity optical communications systems and networks. Led by Polina Bayvel FREng, Professor of Optical Communications and Networks, the members of the ONG team receiving the award are Dr Lidia Galdino, Dr Robert Killey, Dr Robert Maher, Dr Seb Savory and Dr Benn Thomsen.


Dr Robert Maher, Dr Benn Thomsen, Professor Polina Bayvel and Dr Robert Killey.
The team’s research, focusing in recent years on algorithms for optical communications, digital signal processing and the mitigation of optical fibre impairments, has provided a foundation for all terabit/s long-haul transmission systems. The group developed and demonstrated techniques to overcome optical fibre nonlinearity limits, doubling the distance over which data can travel error-free over transoceanic transmission distances. The ONG was the first to consider the application of coherent detection to optical access systems to increase bandwidth, underscoring the impact of their leading edge research work in terms of high bandwidth, low-cost services to the consumer.


In addition to advancing the field and helping to shape policy, the ONG’s work has had major impact and led to significant commercial benefits across many companies throughout the global photonics and commercial telecommunications sector, an extraordinary achievement for an engineering research group in the intensely competitive optical fibre communications and networks environment. The application of the team’s research to software-defined optical networks continues to play a defining role in the design of tomorrow’s optical communication systems and networks.


Dean of UCL Engineering & Professor of Software Systems Engineering, Professor Anthony Finkelstein FREng says, “Optical communications technology is the keystone of the digital economy supporting immense engineering and societal change. The Optical Networks Group has made pioneering contributions to this hugely important technical field and are continuing to tackle the critical problems of capacity that we are likely to face over the next decade.”


On winning the award, Professor Polina Bayvel says, “On behalf of the Optical Network Group, I would like to express our deep gratitude to the Academy for this award and the recognition of our work. The awardees represent a much larger team of outstanding researchers, who have worked hard on many aspects of optical communications and networks research. This award is for the entire group and we look forward to continuing our work on new techniques to maximize the capacity of the critical optical network infrastructure, to enable new services that will benefit people’s lives and the economy.



For more information contact:

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering

T: | 020 7766 0655

E: |  Jane Sutton



Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. 

We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook. 

We have four strategic challenges: Drive faster and more balanced economic growth; foster better education and skills; lead the profession; promote engineering at the heart of society.


Colin Campbell Mitchell Award. Awarded to an individual or team of up to six engineers either working or studying in the UK. It will be awarded for having made the greatest contribution to the advancement of any field of engineering within the period of the four years prior to the making of the award. A cash prize of £3,000 will be awarded to an individual, up to a maximum of £6,000 for a team. 

The Award commemorates the life and work of one of Scotland's most accomplished marine engineers. Edinburgh-born Colin Campbell Mitchell OBE FRSE (1904-69) had a long and distinguished career with Brown Brothers Engineering where he pioneered the development of the steam catapult for use on aircraft carriers.


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