University earns highest honour in UK education


Heriot-Watt University has won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its pioneering research in the frontier science of photonics.

The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes are the highest national Honours available to the UK’s further and higher education sector. They are awarded every two years to the very best universities and colleges in their field after rigorous and independent assessment.

Winning entries, awarded by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, are required to demonstrate excellence, innovation and public benefit to the wider world. 

To win the Queen’s Anniversary Prize speaks to the quality and impact of our frontier research in optics and quantum science and technology, and its application to deliver outstanding impact on wider society in areas of communications, sensing and security.

Prof. Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Heriot-Watt University was selected for its ground-breaking and sustained research that has helped advance photonics technology in the last five decades.

The word 'photonics' first appeared around 1970, to describe using light to perform functions that then fell mainly within the domain of electronics, such as telecommunications, sensing and information processing. Heriot-Watt University has been a key contributor to the field and has made real practical applications to the world’s photonics technologies ever since, with research in fibre optics intrinsic to the world’s communication system and the internet, now fundamental to modern life. 

The University’s laser technology is applied in manufacturing from the nanoscale of the mobile phone’s integrated circuits to the macroscale of ship‐building, and its optical fibre sensor research applications range from medically critical measurements within human bodies to the monitoring of oil and gas reservoirs across the ocean floor. 

Professor Julian Jones, Senior Deputy Principal at Heriot-Watt, who has devoted much of his career to photonics research, said: “Our work in photonics reflects the University’s heritage and purpose.

“Through our research we have contributed real practical and economic benefits throughout the world, achieved by working closely with our colleagues in industry and business, and by supporting our students in undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral degree programmes.

“The award of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize is a tremendous honour and recognises the University’s role in improving lives around the world through its research and application. I also want to convey my sincere thanks to all colleagues inside and outside the University who have contributed.”

News of the Prize comes during Heriot-Watt’s bicentennial year when it celebrates its founding roots in Scotland.  

Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Heriot-Watt University, said: “To win the Queen’s Anniversary Prize speaks to the quality and impact of our frontier research in optics and quantum science and technology, and its application to deliver outstanding impact on wider society in areas of communications, sensing and security.

“The roots of this University were founded 200 years ago on the principles of using education and science for the betterment of wider society. Today, these tenets remain as we continue to use our research to deliver transformational change in responding to global challenges.”

The Queen’s Anniversary Prize winners were announced at a reception held at St James’s Palace on Thursday, 25 November 2021.

A Prize Medal and certificate signed by The Queen, will be presented to a small University delegation by a senior member of the Royal family at a ceremony in London on 17 February 2022.

Heriot-Watt University has been presented with a Queen’s Anniversary Prize on three prior occasions:

Engineering & Technology, Round 1 Prize-winner, 1994

Engineering & Technology, Round 11 Prize-winner, 2015

Humanities, Social Sciences and Law, Round 13 Prize-winner, 2019

Heriot-Watt University is showcasing its expertise at Expo 2020 Dubai until 31 March 2022.  Focusing on global innovation and its research institutes, the University will explore how artificial intelligence, robotics, net zero, energy and health are shaping tomorrow. On 8 December 2021, Heriot-Watt is hosting a day-long Future Skills Conference where it will explore purposeful education and the skills needed for the jobs of the future. 


Craig McManamon

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