UK prominent in tech award finalists

British researchers behind two of the four breakthroughs shortlisted for a million euro innovation prize have described their achievement as evidence that UK technology continues to punch above its weight in the global arena.

When the overall winner of the 2008 Millennium Technology prize is named at a ceremony in Finland in June, the finalists will include a pair of researchers whose work at different UK universities has provided the springboard for world-changing innovation.

Professor David Payne, director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton, is part of a group nominated for their outstanding contributions to telecommunications through the invention in the 1980s of the erbium-doped fibre amplifier.

Although he was competing with fellow nominees Professor Emmanuel Desurvire of Thales Corporate Research & Technology in France and Dr Randy Giles of Bell Laboratories in the US, the three have been shortlisted together in recognition of the collective impact they made on global telecoms.

Large-scale adoption of EDFAs has revolutionised the world of high-speed and long-distance communication by providing a way of amplifying optical signals directly without the need to convert them to electric signals.

Payne is joined by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester Department of Genetics, the scientist responsible for developing DNA fingerprinting techniques used in identification of criminal suspects and in paternity and immigration disputes.

Claimed to be the world̵7;s biggest technology award, the Millennium Technology Prize is presented every two years by the Technology Academy Finland, an independent foundation established by Finnish industry in partnership with the Finnish state. Nominees have to have significantly improved the quality of human life: previous winners include Sir Tim Berners-Lee for his part in creating the World Wide Web.

The prize pool for the 2008 prize is euros 1.15m, with the overall winner collecting euros 800,000 and the other shortlisted ̵6;laureates̵7; awarded euros 115,000 each.

The list of finalists was revealed this week at simultaneous events in Finland, France, the US and the UK. Speaking at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London, Payne and Jeffreys agreed that British representation was evidence of some factor that helps the country̵7;s research base to punch above its weight. ̶0;We do it very efficiently for the amount of money we spend,̶1; said Payne. ̶0;It̵7;s something about the British psyche. Perhaps it comes from our education system.̶1;

The shortlist is completed by Professor Robert Langer of MIT for his work on biomaterials for controlled drug release and tissue regeneration, and Dr Andrew J. Viterbi for the invention of the Viterbi algorithm, which has become a key element in wireless and digital communications systems.

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Image: The winner of the Millennium Technology Prize will be announced in June

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