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Science leader to champion university among global internet giants in the US

November 3 2015


A world-leading expert in optoelectronics is to champion Glyndŵr University Wrexham among giants of the internet age.

Michael Lebby, a visiting professor and chair in optoelectronics, is forging new links with industry in Silicon Valley on behalf of the Welsh institution.

Professor Lebby, who hails from California, will hold meetings with the likes of Google, Twitter, Amazon, eBay and Facebook to attract students and investment to the university.

He is fully supportive of Glyndŵr’s new five-year strategy – including a projected turnover of £1.7m this academic year and plans to double student numbers by 2020 - and believes securing partnerships with internationally significant heavyweights of industry will reinforce that vision.

“I’m already working with the University of Southern California (USC) and helping them to raise private money in the Bay area from these companies,” said Professor Lebby, recently named chief executive officer of a research-oriented optoelectronics company.

“They are based in Los Angeles and don’t have a lot of in-depth reach into social media and hi-technology in that region, which is where I live, so I can help deliver that.

“I will be meeting the executives of these companies – the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Amazon - and some will donate to USC in some way, while others will want to do collaborative programmes and look at ways to attract students.

“While I’m there it will make a lot of sense to talk about Glyndŵr as well, and look at ways we can leverage students and business to Wales.”

Professor Lebby said the large number of ex-pats living in North America and Silicon Valley in particular will help the University’s cause.

He added: “As I speak to different people I’m sure there won’t be many graduates of Glyndŵr because it’s such a new university, but there will be people from the UK, and specifically Wales, who have gone into the software sector and will want to collaborate or assist their home countries.

“There’s potentially a good link for Glyndŵr University to be involved in that way; one side of the coin is the exposure of Glyndŵr to these huge companies, and on the other side is bringing students into the university, which would be very attractive to them from a technology standpoint.”

The institution appointed Professor Lebby to a chair in optoelectronics, the science and technology of electronic devices that process and convert light from and to information signals, last year.

He visits the University frequently and advises on the development of its work in the sector, assisting with the winning of research and development funding and facilitating the development of optoelectronic aspects of the skill base at Glyndŵr University’s OpTIC Centre in St Asaph.

Professor Lebby took his first degree, MBA and PhD at Bradford University, later being awarded a higher doctoral degree there.

Much of his PhD research was undertaken at Bell Laboratories in the USA, one of the world's leading electronics research establishments, and he continued there before moving to communications giant Motorola, where he spent 10 years.

After that he took on a more entrepreneurial role as a senior manager of several companies. He spent five years as chief executive of the Optoelectronic Industry Development Association in the USA, before returning to assume senior roles in industry.

He has had close working relationships with leading researchers in optoelectronics in the UK over many years, including involvement with research and development projects in Wales, but this appointment gave him a more formal association with Wales and specifically with the country’s leading optical research centre, at Glyndŵr’s Denbighshire site.

Already, ideas are being developed to use his reputation and expertise in development of optoelectronic activities at St Asaph, which will provide a powerful complement to the existing world-leading work there on polishing of large optics and photovoltaic solar panels.

His conversations with some of the internet’s biggest names are incredibly positive for the University, as was his recent appearance at the Internet Technologies & Applications Conference held on Wrexham campus.

“I think the fact that Glyndŵr can show a connection with technology expectations and what these companies are looking for is good thing as they will realise the syllabuses that Glyndŵr can put together would ultimately be more competitive,” said Professor Lebby.

“From a course standpoint we can deliver, we can look at all aspects of engineering and can tailor courses to what these sectors are looking for.

“New companies are all software-driven and if Glyndŵr puts on more degrees to support that it could be a match made in heaven.”

He added: “Glyndŵr University may be small in size but it’s not the size that matters it’s how down to earth you are and practicality, so the flexibility here is a definite strength. You want to know what job you’re going to get at the end of your degree, and the institution has a very good reputation among students and industry for that.

“If it’s seen to be connected to some of the global internet leaders that can only be a good thing, so I’ll be flying the flag over in the US to put Glyndŵr University at the forefront.”

Phil Storrow, Head of Applied Science, Computing and Engineering, paid tribute to Professor Lebby and said his involvement in establishing improved business and academic links will play a major role for the School in the future.

“Michael is a world leader in his field and Glyndŵr University values highly the close relationship we have with him,” said Phil.

“Connecting the University to Silicon Valley has the potential to bring massive benefits to the whole curriculum in my School and give a huge boost to student experience.”

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