'Photonics' is the technology of generating, transmitting and processing light - just as electronics does with electrons and electricity.

a picture illustrating the story

At the recent annual meeting of Photonics21, the European Technology Platform for photonics, European Commissioner Neelie Kroes appointed Jana Huisman, a 18-year-old physics and mathematics student, as the Young Ambassador for Photonics Education.
Although she is young, Ms Huisman is already in her third year of undergraduate studies at the University of Bonn. 'I started by wanting to understand the world at the most fundamental level - the laws that govern the physical world,' she says.

Originally from the Netherlands, it is this curiosity that first brought her to study physics and is now driving her interest in photonics. 'Light is amazing,' says Ms Huisman. 'It behaves as both a particle and a wave. It can carry information, can be a source of energy and can be used medically.'

Transmitting enthusiasm

The Photonics21 platform brings together the European photonics industry and research community in order to implement a common Photonics Strategy for Europe. Together with the European Commission, the platform has launched the Young Ambassador award - aimed at growing interest in studying photonics, one of the Key Enabling Technologies for Europe's future.

'As Young Ambassador for Photonics Education, I'm going to visit three research institutes this year to talk to researchers and see their work,' explains Ms Huisman. 'I'm looking forward to learning about what they are doing, bringing my enthusiasm, and then writing and blogging about it - hopefully I can transmit some of that enthusiasm to other students.'

As well as encouraging others to enter the field, Ms Huisman hopes to gain a greater understanding of photonics research and the ICT industry in Europe.

'Photonics is a very diverse and active field,' she says, 'with a lot of room for new research and career opportunities.'

As Mrs Kroes pointed out at the meeting, photonics makes ultra-high speed fibre broadband possible and is the key to the 3D printing revolution. The European photonics industry already makes up 20% of the global market and the EU is home to more than 5000 SMEs in the sector.

Ms Huisman thinks that there are many reasons for young people to take an interest in this area. 'Curiosity is one of the main reasons for me - which is what drove me towards science,' she explains. But in a diverse and rapidly developing field there also many opportunities for personal development.

A busy year ahead

At the award ceremony, the Commissioner also asked Ms Huisman to join, as an observer, her group of Young Advisors on the Digital Agenda - who give their insights on digital communication technologies and applications.

'Young people often have a different point of view about these technologies because they have grown up with them,' says Ms Huisman, reflecting on the invitation, 'and a mix of perspectives is good in any debate.'

Whatever the future holds, Jana Huisman's current priority is to keep pursuing her studies on the interaction between light and matter. 'There's a connection to life,' she says. 'There are photonics applications in environmental and health sciences, and with photovoltaics we can imitate nature by getting energy from sunlight.'

Ms Huisman intends to continue her current studies to Masters and PhD level - and for the next year will combine this ambition with the exciting prospect of the Young Ambassador programme.

'I start as ambassador here and now,' says Ms Huisman, 'but my first trip will be to the Polytecnico di Milano in Italy - probably before the end of the summer.'

Hopefully this will be her first step along the road to a bright future.

The Photonics21 platform received research funding under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research (FP7) through the PHORCE21 and INNOPHO21 projects.

Link to project on CORDIS:

- PHORCE21 project factsheet on CORDIS
- INNOPHO21 project factsheet on CORDIS

Link to project's website:

- Photonics21 website

Project coordinator
European Commission