History of Quebec Photonics

The history of Quebec photonics really began after the Second World War. In 1947, the Department of National Defence created the Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC-Valcartier) centre. At that time, photonics aroused the interest of several researchers, including Dr. Jacques A. Beaulieu, who in the late 1960s invented the high-power, transversely excited, atmospheric pressure gas laser known as CO2-TEA.

This invention, which marks a decisive moment in the history of photonics in Quebec, would, however, be kept secret until the 1970s because of its vast potential. Indeed, the CO2-TEA laser was at the origin of major advances in university research in plasma physics, spectroscopy, materials processing and photochemistry. This laser is still used today, especially for surface treatments and marking.

The Centre d’optique, photonique et laser (COPL), the second pillar of the industry, was founded by Laval University in 1989. Its objective is to support researchers in photonics and train graduate students in physics. Today, COPL brings together researchers from Laval University, as well as from Polytechnique Montréal, Université de Sherbrooke, École de technologie supérieure, Institut national de la recherche scientifique, McGill University, Université du Québec à Montréal and Concordia University. These researchers are world-renowned for their expertise in guided optics and fibre optics, lasers and ultrafast phenomena, optical communications and photonic materials. Gradually, this group of experts is growing and creating partnerships with many Quebec institutions.

Last but not least, INO, a leader in technology transfer and spin-offs, is a strong promoter of strengthening the link between institutional research and industrial applications. INO is recognized for its active participation in the sector, particularly with its new spin-off companies (Optel Vision, TeraXion, Coractive, Fiso, etc.), which themselves employ COPL graduate students.

Today’s photonics sector is a continuation of these three founding pillars of research and development. The expertise of Quebec photonics is reflected in the critical mass of more than 220 companies that, through their diversified know-how, form a strong and dynamic ecosystem.

Mobilization and Networks

For nearly 20 years now, a number of industrialists and researchers have come together to strengthen their ties and boost their visibility. Following the creation of regional groupings, new initiatives with a broader scope are emerging to mobilize the sector, such as the Quebec government’s ACCORD initiative.

The ACCORD initiative works for the economic development of the regions by relying on cutting-edge technological know-how. It is from this desire to mobilize that the Quebec Photonic Network (QPN) was born in 2004, itself the result of the merger of two regional groups: Groupe optique-photonique Québec (GOPQ) and Réseau photonique de Montréal (RPM).

With the expertise of its labour pool and its innovative companies, photonics is gaining recognition in Quebec as a technology sector of the future. In order to mobilize its full potential, the photonics sector underwent one last major merger in 2017: that of the Réseau photonique du Québec (RPQ) and the Cercle de l’industrie en optique-photonique (CIOP)