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We visit the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO)

We visit the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO)

Laboratorio ICFO

Find out about one of the most important photonic science research centers

Few people in Barcelona know that just half an hour from the city (in Castelldefels) can be found one of the most important photonic science research centers in the world which carries out internationally-prestigious cutting-edge projects.

This is the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), a center founded in 2002 by its current director, the scientist Lluís Torner.

And what is photonics exactly? Photonics studies the generation, transmission and manipulation of photons and is a dynamic field considered to be one of the key technologies of our era in applications for all areas of life, including health, energy and security. ICFO conducts pioneering projects in such important fields as quantum physics.

To give you an idea, in 2019, one of the ICFO researchers received more than one million dollars from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in the USA to investigate hybrid quantum networks, which are essential for developing efficient quantum computers and, in the long term, for building a quantum internet. In addition, ICFO is one of the most prominent European research centers working on the Quantum Flagship project, a leading initiative in quantum physics developed by European Union.

"ICFO is one of the leading centers in the EU for research in quantum physics"

But the ICFO does much more than quantum physics; with a team composed of numerous talented researchers (more than 70% from outside Spain), the research groups also study graphene, solar energy, optoelectronics, nanophotonics, biophotonics, and neurophotonics, etc. In the words of its director, the ICFO's research programs "are on the frontiers of photonics worldwide and aim to address the important challenges facing society as a whole."

In addition, this body also has a large department working on technology transfer; this means that they are concerned to ensure that the laboratory's advances and results reach society in the form of a product or service. The team led by Silvia Carrasco works on patenting research and helps to find companies ready to commercialize it. So far, ICFO has launched 7 spinoffs, including QuSide, HemoPhotonics, Droplite and Radiantis.

The technology transfer team is also responsible for establishing strategic alliances and partnerships with industry and the private sector. In addition to spinoffs, ICFO also generates technology transfer agreements to respond to partners’ needs and interests. These include research on specific topics, consulting projects, co-development, joint ventures, licensing, and joint laboratories, etc. In short, with experience in both business and research, this ICFO team acts as a bridge between the laboratory and scientists on the one hand, and companies and society on the other.

Customized laboratories

The ICFO laboratories occupy a large 14,000 m2 building that is equipped with the latest technologies (one mustn’t forget that researchers work at nanometric levels and with lights that seek to decipher quantum physics). The ICFO facilities were built with funding from the Catalan Government and Spanish Governments, the European Union, and the Cellex Foundation. One area of the building is the result of the generous contribution of Pere Mir, a philanthropist who has done so much for the development of science in Catalonia.

The ICFO, which is funded mainly through the contributions of its founding institutions and competitive national and international projects, is also part of BIST (Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology).

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