In invention developed by the University of Surrey has been announced as one of the 100 best breakthroughs by UK universities for the important influence it has on people’s everyday lives.

Professor Alf Adams’ strained quantum-well laser is honoured in the list as it paved the way for modern inventions such as the internet, computers, fibre-optic phone lines, supermarket barcodes, DVDs, pollution monitoring and has been used in medicine.

How does it work?

semiconductor lasers receive electrical signals before turning them into pulses of light. In a quantum-well laser, there is an extremely thin layer of semiconducting crystal in which the laser light is generated. Professor Adams proposed that if the crystal lattice of this layer was grown in such a way as to put it under strain, it would lose its cubic symmetry and change the energy levels of the electrons such that they can emit light pulses more efficiently and at higher speeds, allowing more information to be carried by the light energy.

The list of British Breakthroughs demonstrates how UK universities are at the forefront of some of the world’s most important discoveries and innovations.

The list includes the creation of the internet, tackling plastic pollution, ultrasound scans to check the health of unborn babies, the establishment of the living wage.

However, the list also highlights the less celebrated breakthroughs that transform lives including: a specially designed bra to help women undergoing radiotherapy; a toilet that flushes human waste without using water, development of a new scrum technique to make rugby safer and a sports initiative that aims to use football to resolve conflict in divided communities.

Vice-Provost of Research and Innovation, at the University of Surrey, Professor Davis Sampson, said: “we are proud of all the exceptional work our researchers do here at the University of Surrey, much of which results in real differences to the day-to-day lives of people across the world.”

“we are particularly proud of Professor Adams research and its rich legacy. Without his quantum-well laser the increasingly digital world we are living in today simply wouldn’t exist.”

The UK’s best breakthrough list 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life was put together in partnership with universities across the UK after independent research found that the public has little understanding of the benefits of universities beyond undergraduate teaching, but that research is a lesser sung hero that impacts our daily lives.

More than 100 universities submitted a nomination. The entries cover health, technology, environment, family, community, culture and sport.

As part of the MadeAtUni campaign, every university in the country was invited to nominate the one thing from their institution which they believe has had the biggest impact on people, lives or communities.

President of Universities UK, Professor Dame Janet Beer, said: “Universities really do transform lives. The technology we use every day, the medicines that save lives, the teachers who inspire – all come from UK universities and the important work being doe by academics.”

You can find out more about the UK’s best Breakthroughs and the MadeAtUni campaign at

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