Duke's new Photonics and Communications Center to hold launch symposium on promise of 'Photon Forest'

April 10, 2001

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University's new $100 million Fitzpatrick Center for Advanced Photonics and Communications Systems at the Pratt School of Engineering will stage a "Photonics in the Forest" kickoff symposium April 16-18.

The event is free and open to the public; however, registration is requested online at http://www.fitzpatrick.duke.edu/convocation. The convocation begins with a 6:30 p.m. reception on April 16 at the Washington Duke Inn, across Cameron Boulevard (N.C. 751) from Duke's West Campus. The program, which begins at 8:30 a.m. on April 17, includes panel discussions and demonstrations of leading-edge photonics technology.

The convocation's title symbolizes Duke's ambition that the Fitzpatrick Center will help make North Carolina into a "photon forest" where research and development in photonics can create the kind of technological advance and economic growth found in Silicon Valley.

North Carolina is home to more than 300 telecommunications and optical fiber companies. Nearby Research Triangle Park hosts two major companies with interest in photonics, Cisco Systems Inc. and Nortel. Two other research institutions, N.C. State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are also in the area.

Photonics, a technology that melds light with electronics, is at a stage of development similar to electronics in the 1950s. According to experts, photonics -- which takes its name from the photon, the fundamental particle of light -- promises high-speed, high-capacity fiberoptic Internet communications for use in next-generation applications in education, medicine, entertainment and commerce.

The center is named for high-tech entrepreneur Michael J. Fitzpatrick and his wife, Patty, who last December announced donations of $25 million each to Duke and Stanford universities to make both schools international leaders in advanced photonics.

"We're moving from an electronic world to an optical world," Michael Fitzpatrick said when announcement of the gift was made. "We want to help create at Duke and Stanford the world's finest centers for photonics, and we hope the centers will coalesce universities, industry and government to enable the full attainment of the potential of optics." Michael Fitzpatrick will moderate a panel discussion on "The Photonics Marketplace" to be held at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17. Speakers on that panel will include Kristina Johnson, the Pratt School's dean, herself an internationally known expert in optics, signal processing and computing who previously directed the Optoelectronics Computing Systems Center at the University of Colorado.

That panel will be preceded by a noon luncheon talk on "Challenges to Innovation in the United States" by Duncan Moore, a University of Rochester optical engineering professor who was associate director for technology in the Clinton White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy. Another Tuesday panel on "Optoelectronics for Fiber Networks" will include David Miller, director of Stanford's Fitzpatrick Center for Photonics. Also that day, a panel on "Topology of Future Photonic Networks and Biophotonics Systems" will include Piotr Myslinsky, founder of Trillium Photonics. And a panel of "Biophotonics Systems" will include faculty from Duke and the University of California at Irvine.

Duke, Stanford and the international photonics community then will honor the Fitzpatricks for their vision at a special 5 p.m. convocation ceremony at the Love Auditorium in the Levine Science Research Center off Science Drive on the West Campus.

Wednesday, April 18 panels will discuss "Photonics in Information Systems," "Education and the Photonics Workforce," and "Quantum Optoelectronics." The education panel will be moderated by David J. Brady, a Duke professor of electrical and computer engineering and the Duke photonics center's Brian F. Addy Endowed Director. The information science panel will include Turner Whitted, senior researcher at Microsoft Research Corp.

About a dozen technical demonstrations are also planned at the symposium, a number of them from active research at the new Duke center. The convocation is sponsored in part by Mohr Davidow Ventures, a Menlo Park, Calif., early-stage venture capital firm.

One Duke project, the Argus Visualization Space, features 64 cameras in a circle and associated monitors that will give visitors an unusual perspective on vision, space and movement. Another, on "microfluidic" devices, will present a developing technology for routing laser light via bubbles immersed in a liquid. A third will demonstrate striking uses of magnetic resonance imaging.

Other demonstrations, including 3-D and virtual reality displays, will come from the University of Illinois, where Brady was recruited to Duke from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology along with his wife Rachael, who was director of that institute's Integrated Systems Laboratory. Brady's research has focused on such areas as three-dimensional video, holography and ultrafast optical systems.

Case Western Reserve University will provide an ultrasound imaging demonstration, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill another on nano-manipulation. There will also be corporate demonstrations. Current plans call for the Fitzpatrick center to be completed in late 2003. It will be home to at least 21 research and visiting faculty, 33 postdoctoral fellows and 22 staff, as well as up to 138 graduate and 40 undergraduate students. Its laboratories will concentrate on research in light-wave communication systems and components; receivers and sensor signal processing networks; displays and visualization, and biophotonic sensors and sources.

"Examples of the technologies that will grow from Duke's new photonics program include sensors that measure the distribution and density of specific chemicals and pathogens in living tissue; networks that provide viewer-specific, three-dimensional video on demand; components that enable ultrabroadband communications and information environments that make access to the wealth of human knowledge as simple as pressing a computer key," Brady said.

Among its educational efforts, the center will create a Fitzpatrick Photonics Society of Scholars, which will invite talented juniors and seniors to work toward a master's or doctoral degree in photonics following their undergraduate degree. The center also will develop an undergraduate certificate program in photonics for engineering and science students, as well as a Communications Sciences and Engineering Program for nontechnical undergraduate majors.

In following Duke's emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching and research, the center will work with the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences to develop courses for law, medicine and life science undergraduates in such areas as communications networks, digital imaging, visualization and multimedia communications.

At the graduate level, the center will develop a professional master's degree program in photonics for working engineers and communication systems, as well as traditional academic master's and doctoral programs specializing in photonics.

The center also will offer "boot camp," or short courses, in photonics for industry and government engineers and administrators. The market potential for photonics is staggering. Sales of optoelectronic equipment are expected to reach $34 billion in 2006, according to industry analyst ElectroniCast. Fueling this growth will be expansion of the Internet, deregulation of the telephone industry, and the increase in video-on-demand and teleconferencing.

Said Dean Johnson: "A single optical fiber will ultimately be capable of transmitting 'terabits' [trillion bits of data] per second -- exceeding the total traffic on the entire Internet today. Advances in network capacity through photonics will enable instant availability of whole libraries of information, high-definition video on demand, three-dimensional multisensory displays and real-time 'telepresence' by which people can immerse themselves in distant environments for remote surgery.

"North Carolina enjoys the same kinds of advantages that historically gave rise to Silicon Valley," Johnson said. "We have world-class research universities, including North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke. We also have a burgeoning cadre of industrial leaders in photonics-related fields, such as telecommunications, computers, wireless and optical networks, software, three-dimensional visualization, bioprocessing and bioinformatics. And, all these resources have been nurtured by a dynamic, forward-looking state government whose policies and investment in such facilities as the MCNC have encouraged their growth.

"We hope to forge close ties with many of the state's 300 telecommunications and optical fiber companies, to help provide them with technology, training and expert consultation," she said.

Industry partners will be invited to participate in the center's technology advisory board, joint research and degree programs, professional master's degree program and internship program. They also will be encouraged to participate in the center's translational technology program to license new technology developed in the center and to create new companies based on that technology.
Note to editors: David Brady can be reached at 919-660-5394 or Dbrady@ee.duke.edu

Duke University

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