Corrections or additions?
These articles by Barbara Fox were prepared for the
August 29, 2001 edition of U.S. Newspaper. All rights reserved.
From the Ivory Tower: UltraFast Optical
If your high tech firm needs to rent a clean room, or
needs to make something in a nanofabrication lab, come to Princeton.
"Our center for Photonics and Optoelectronic Materials (POEM)
is a place to come for technical assistance and, possibly, very
technology," says Joseph X. Montemarano, director of industrial
liaison for Princeton University. Montemarano works with POEM and
the other scientific programs at Princeton University to set up
and corporate opportunities ("The Best of Both Worlds," U.S.
1, August 22).
How to find opportunities with commercial applications will be
topic for the U.S. 1 Technology Forum. He will speak on Thursday,
August 30, at 4 p.m. at the Doral Forrestal on "From the Ivory
Tower: a Princeton Guide to Valuable Technology." The lecture
is part of U.S. 1’s Technology Showcase, held in conjunction with
the Princeton Chamber’s Business Trade Fair from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is free. Call 609-452-7000.
Among the firms that, as POEM members, have tapped its resources are
Epitaxx (now a division of J.D.S. Uniphase, www.epitaxx.com), Greg
Olson’s Sensors Unlimited (www.sensorsinc.com), Pennsylvania-based
Global Photonic Energy Corporation, Hopewell-based PD-LD
and Princeton Optronics, now at 1 Electronics Drive in Hamilton.
Use of the fabrication labs and the clean room at Princeton’s
Quadrangle is included in POEM membership, which costs $20,000 to
$50,000 a year, but requires working in sponsored research
The lab costs $1 million a year to maintain and has more than 100
users, including at least 20 visiting scientists and engineers from
industry. It is especially strong in infrared for night vision and
UltraFast Optical Systems (www.ultrafastoptical.com) is one of the
companies that started out in POEM’s laboratories and now has a
on the way to market. Professor Paul Prucnal has an
switching technology to eliminate bottlenecks in electronic switching
systems, says Tom Curtis, CEO of Ultra Fast Optical Systems, which
is based on Prucnal’s discoveries. Prucnal thinks he can use the
for both telecommunications and medical applications.
Prucnal might have the ultimate answer to increasing
bandwidth. Some say his solution could rev speeds up to what now seems
a preposterous speed — 500 gigabits. He is pioneering with an
all-optical switch, as opposed to a combination of optical and
The device is called a Terahertz Optical Assymetric Demultiplexer
(TOAD). It applies "interferometric principles" to produce
a switching action. Interferometers compare two optical signals and
they switch them in one direction or another. "Paul creates very
rapid phase shifts in optical signals so you can use interferometers
to control them," says Curtis.
"The fastest commercially available is 10 billion bits (10 gigs)
a second," says Curtis. "Over the next couple of years, 40
gigabits will be deployed. People are planning systems going behind
40, but that is five years away. In principle, Paul’s technology
you to go out to 500 gigabits."
"Using Paul’s fast switching technology to enhance the performance
of optical (lightwave) communication systems, we can shift the wave
length of light in a transmission system. We can regenerate the signal
in an all optical fashion to allow higher transmission rates for one
The growth of UltraFast reflects current policies at Princeton in
to the clean room facility and the library and staff," says
The state-supported Center for Ultrafast Laser Applications, located
on the second level of Frist Chemistry building at Princeton, is also
contributing to the company’s research.
Each member of POEM must be assigned a university staff member to
act as liaison. UltraFast’s is Ivan Glesk. "Since Ivan and Paul
are both consultants to the company, within the limits they are
we get their help. And we give an unrestricted research grant to Paul
to support his laboratory," says Curtis.
patent portfolio which Paul and his research group developed,"
says Curtis. "In return, the university took an equity stake in
the company, for an undisclosed amount. If we sell products, the
will get some licensing fee." John Ritter, the university’s
of patents and licensing, negotiates these deals.
What appears to be good for telecommunications might also be valuable
for a medical purpose, so Montemarano takes every opportunity to try
out dual applications. In the case of UltraFast, doctors may be able
to find tumors by analyzing how light is reflected back from the
Tumors have lots of oxygenated blood on one end and a dead mass,
hemoglobin, at the other. So doctors may be able to "see"
tumors without ever penetrating the tissue with anything other than
"The light is scattered differently when it passes the oxygenated
and non-oxygenated blood, and, using our fast switching and detecting
technology, we can locate the tumor," says Curtis. "You will
be able to see those profiles without penetrating the tissue with
anything other than light."
A former colleague of Curtis, Marty Singer, was a friend of the
investor, Mason Sexton. Together they formed the company last year
and hammered out the licensing deal with Princeton, then recruited
Curtis. Curtis was born on a Ohio dairy farm, majored in math and
physics at Kenyon College, Class of 1963, and earned his doctorate
at Yale. He worked at AT&T and Bell Labs, doing R&D and managing
products, and is known for a mid-1980s project on using digital signal
processing to eliminate echoes from satellite service. Curtis met
his wife, Audrey, at Bell Labs. She is chief technology officer of
eLink Communications in Bethesda and New York City, and they have
four children, the youngest in high school.
Wit SoundView, an investment banking firm in Connecticut known for
its photonics expertise, is working on the first round of venture
capital funding, slated for $5 to $15 million. Curtis expects to open
a larger office in Holmdel and quickly ramp up from two full-time
employees to 20.
Holmdel 07733. Thomas H. Curtis, president and CEO. 732-888-6073;
fax, 609-258-2158. Home page: www.ultrafastoptical.com
Some might question why a university should contribute
resources to a multimedia frenzy. Why not let corporate interests
take care of this sector? "The need to create more demanding
applications is what forces us to move ahead," says Joe
industrial liaison at Princeton University. "Five years ago people
had a hard time thinking of what the useful applications would be.
It wasn’t that long ago when we thought 1,200 baud was fast."
"Today industry has 10 and 40 gigabits as the next communication
standard," he says. "So if we don’t find applications that
are demanding, that are really hungry for bandwidth, it slows our
ability to come up with new ideas, to take ultra fast optical
out of dreamland and find real applications."
One such multimedia application is the giant image wall. Display
has not kept up with memory increase, and the amount of information
that you can see is limited by the display screen, explains Princeton
University’s Kai Li. With a display wall, scientists can visualize
their data at scale and see more information.
The university pioneered in building these image walls. Its
walls" are installed at the computer science building and the
new student center. These high resolution back-projection walls
10 by 20 feet, have from 12 to 20 million pixels, and are controlled
by a cluster of PCs. When not in use, they look like a large piece
Intel uses this technology in new chip designs. Rather than print
out big pieces of paper that people shuffle around large tables or
the floor, designers can actually move things around on these modules.
Another use is for demonstrating a sequence of many live web pages.
Also, a visiting scientist from Imax is working with the walls.
From 12 to 20 PCs "run" the wall. "It truly is an
environment, with surround sound, with video cameras that detect and
respond to your gestures. The wall is packed with information and
the resolution is so clear and crisp, whether you are standing in
the back of the room or right on top of it, it is something that will
draw you in," says Montemarano. "It has created an environment
for multi-users to work together in real time."
— Barbara Fox
Corrections or additions?
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