Professor Polina Bayvel wins 2021 IOP Thomas Young Medal

This article was originally published UCL EEE 

London Light steering committee member, Professor Polina Bayvel has been awarded the 2021 Institute of Physics Thomas Young Medal and Prize for distinguished contributions to the field of optical communications.

Head shot of Professor Polina Bayvell

Professor Bayvel has been awarded the 2021 Institute of Physics Thomas Young Medal and Prize. She is the first woman and the first UCL academic to receive this prestigious award. 

The Institute of Physics (IOP) is the professional body and learned society for physics, and the leading body for practicing physicists, in the UK and Ireland.

The IOP annual awards celebrate excellence in physics across research, education, outreach, and application and proudly reflect the wide variety of people, places, organisations and achievements that make physics such an exciting discipline.

Professor Polina Bayvel has been awarded the 2021 Thomas Young Medal and Prize for distinguished contributions to the development of optical communications and the understanding of the physics and mitigation of nonlinear phenomena in optical fibre transmission. This is the first Thomas Young award for a UCL academic, and Professor Bayvel is the first woman to receive the award. She said:

I am deeply honoured to receive this award. Young was an exceptional polymath, who made major contributions to optics and so many other fields – it is humbling to receive an award bearing his name, and doubly so to be the first UCL recipient.  

Our department has a long history of pioneering research in optics and wave propagation in different media, and I receive the award in tribute and gratitude to my two mentors who sadly passed away this year, Professor Sir Eric Ash and Professor John Midwinter, and to my colleagues and students contributing to the world-leading optical communications research of our Optical Networks Group.”

Professor Bayvel has been an academic member of UCL’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering for more than 25 years, having established the Optical Networks Group in 1994. Her research interests are in the area of optical communications and include wavelength-routed optical networks, high-speed optical transmission, and the study and mitigation of fibre nonlinearities. She has made fundamental contributions to the physics and design of advanced high-bandwidth, multi-wavelength optical communications systems, pioneering the use of the wavelength domain for the routing of information and proposed the concept of highly efficient wavelength-routed optical networks.

More recently she has focused on the study of capacity limits in nonlinear optical networks and optical networks for the cloud, demonstrating how coherent detection in combination with digital signal processing algorithms can be used to mitigate the limits of the glass nonlinearity and increase the data carrying capacity of optical networks by a thousand-fold. This research led to the world records on the highest transmission rates over metropolitan area, terrestrial and trans-Atlantic transmission distances.

Professor Sarah Spurgeon, Head of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at UCL, commented:

I would like to express my warmest congratulations to Professor Polina Bayvel on the award of the IOP Thomas Young Medal and Prize. Polina is truly an inspiration, both as a role model for future generations, particularly women, and as a recognised world leader of research in optical communications“.


IOP Awards
2021 Thomas Young Medal and Prize
Previous Thomas Young Medal and Prize recipients
Professor Polina Bayvel
Optical Networks Group
UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering