Professor Wilson Sibbett
Honorary Graduate Tuesday 18th July 2017
Chair of Council, fellow graduates, ladies and gentlemen, at the outset of my remarks, I would wish to say what an honour and privilege it is for me to receive this honorary doctor of science degree from the City University of London. My sincere thanks go to the nominator and to the Senate and I am most grateful to them for considering me worthy to receive this prestigious degree.
As I look out onto this sea of fresh graduate faces, I am confident that your generation has the potential to deliver handsomely to the well-being of this country and indeed to the many with whom you may interact outside the UK. You have already demonstrated the necessary self-discipline and motivation to complete successfully your range of degree courses and, in complimenting you all on your efforts, I am sure that you would wish to join me in acknowledging the contribution made to your success by the inspiration and dedication of the university staff here, by the unending assistance and encouragement of your parents as well as the wider support received from your family and friends. As in my own case, I believe that your degree will open many doors and avenues to career opportunities, some of which you perhaps cannot even begin to imagine today. So, congratulations and ‘well done’ to all involved!
Of course, I am very aware that the world into which you graduate today is rather different to the one into which I first graduated in 1970. Much has changed through technological advances, but in my judgement, the importance and relevance of cooperation and interaction with others remain unchanged. I believe that, regardless of the politics of the day, positive and constructive human exchanges are key and the skills and self-confidence that builds on your university degree experiences will give you a broad spectrum of opportunity spaces for you as individuals, and collectively, I am sure that you can make the world a better place as you go out from here.
With the benefit of hindsight relating to my own case, I can now appreciate that an advantage within my chosen branch of optical physics derived simply from good timing! I have been fortunate to live through a substantial portion of the history of the laser, because, the first demonstration of a working laser in 1960 heralded an era relating to a new field of ‘optical electronics’, or, what is now more often referred to as ‘photonics’. It has been very exciting and interesting to witness at first-hand many of the major advances in laser development as well as the proliferation of applications that are reliant on laser-based technologies. Undoubtedly, you will have used laser pointers, experienced the barcode scanners in the supermarket and you will be aware of high-street clinics for eye surgeries but perhaps you might need to be reminded that the speed of modern internet communications owes much to a range of optical technologies, involving in particular, semiconductor diode lasers and novel optical fibres and related components. Indeed, much continues to be accomplished by cutting-edge research in the field of photonics and I am delighted that, when I am not on the golf course, I can still engage with younger research colleagues who are exploring some up-to-date aspects of optical research in biology and medicine. Today’s cutting-edge technologies will also, I am sure, open up many new and unexpected career pathways for many of you.
As you have already heard in the laureation, my professional life has been in science teaching, research and administration and it followed routes that I could not have imagined in 1970. I learned very quickly, especially through graduate-research experience, the importance of collaboration and cooperation and I have benefited greatly from research-team colleagues, as well as national and international collaborations. Some of the most fruitful and rewarding exchanges have been connected with the multi-disciplinary nature of some of my research which, over the years, has engaged not only with other physicists but also with engineers, biologists and clinicians. Interestingly also, I have found that communication with politicians and policy makers (whether in a science or in a sport) can best be achieved through the sharing of ideas and thinking within conversations that can be allowed to be quite radical and diverse. Each of you is now well qualified to participate in such conversations and to build lasting and rewarding relationships!
So, my fellow graduates, I wish you all every possible success in your future careers and, for you and me, there is no doubt in my mind that City University of London will continue to command a very special place in each of our lives.