Future Video Display

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

particular speed."

The growth of UltraFast reflects current policies at Princeton in

several ways:

Facilities use. "As members of POEM, we have access

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.

Licensing rights: "We have exclusive rights to the

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.

Employing engineering technologies for medical

applications .

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.

Ultra Fast Optical Systems Inc., 5 Canyon Run Road,

Holmdel 07733. Thomas H. Curtis, president and CEO. 732-888-6073;

fax, 609-258-2158. Home page: www.ultrafastoptical.com

Top Of Page
Future Video Display

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

of plexiglass.

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

Next Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments