Corrections or additions?
(This article by Chris Mario was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
December 2, 1998. All rights reserved.)
Old Nassau’s New Approach
When the definitive history of the state of California
is finally written, one of the most important moments will be the
day in the mid-1930s when two young men enrolled as undergraduate
engineering students at Stanford. These two men would invent an
in a Palo Alto garage and set in motion the series of events that
would lead to the development of Silicon Valley, the epicenter of
the Information Age. The names of these two men, of course, were
Hewlett and David Packard.
When the history of New Jersey is written, will Princeton play as
important a role in the economic history of our state as Stanford
has played in California? As of today, most certainly not. Our
and Packards didn’t go to Princeton; rather, they worked at Bell Labs,
or were named Merck.
Recognizing the vast untapped economic resource represented by the
cutting-edge scientific research done every day at Princeton and its
potential to do for New Jersey what Stanford has done for California,
the university and the state have collaborated to create the Center
for Photonics and Optoelectronic Materials (POEM) at Princeton.
in 1988 and jointly supported by the New Jersey Commission on Science
and Technology (established by Governor Kean in the early 1980s and
heavily promoted in recent years by Governor Whitman), the university,
and the federal government, POEM actively facilitates market-oriented
cooperation between Princeton University researchers and New Jersey
POEM put the results of 10 years of work and 10s of millions of
in funding on display earlier this fall at its Annual Review of
symposium, held at Princeton University’s E-Quad. From basic to
research, from new ways to improve X-ray technology to novel ideas
for flat-panel displays, more than two dozen teams of scientists from
the university and its industry partners presented their advances
in a wide array of areas.
From the layperson’s perspective, most of the presentations at the
Annual Review of Photonics might just as well have been given in
topics such as "A Planar Avalanche Photodiode Design for 2.5 and
10 Gb/s Receivers" and "Imaging with Wavefront Dividing
System for Mid-Infrared Applications" are not the kinds of things
you’re just going to pick up in the course of an afternoon. But you
didn’t have to be a Nobel-level scientist to sense the excitement
among those in attendance at the Annual Review, or to get the clear
impression that maybe the state and the university are on to something
POEM resulted from a multi-year, multi-million-dollar New Jersey
on Science and Technology program for Advanced Technology Centers.
This was an effort to jumpstart research, provide seed funding,
technology transfer, and offer other support for the development of
new high-tech industries in New Jersey. Advanced Technology Centers
like POEM were also established at Rutgers, NJIT, and UMDNJ. Each
focused on a different set of scientific issues, but all had the same
goal: facilitating cooperation among New Jersey’s technology companies
and its educational institutions.
NJCST’s latest funding program, R&D Excellence, gives $10.5 million
to seven new areas plus 10 programs that had been receiving funding
all along. Rutgers-based programs include biomaterials and medical
devices, bioinformatics, neutraceuticals, conch aquaculture,
telemedicine, and cytoremediation of dredged spoils.
NJIT takes the lead role in such areas as multilife cycle engineering,
multimedia research, polymer processing research, MEMS (micro
systems), digital radio, and transportation information decision
Genomics research is based at UMD-NJ.
Princeton University was funded for a gene target program (p53-mdm2
drug interaction) plus three programs at the POEM center. "POEM
has done very well. With three new centers, it has gotten three times
as much funding as before," says David Eater, acting head of the
New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology.
The POEM program involves 30 faculty members from five departments,
more than 50 research scientists and staff, 100 research assistants,
17 industrial affiliates, and more than 50 collaborative research
partners, including those from such Princeton area companies as
Epitaxx, NEC, Sensors Unlimited, and Universal Display Corp.
In terms of science, POEM’s work falls within two broad areas. The
first area is the generation and manipulation of various kinds of
light waves, including lasers and light emitting diodes, potentially
useful in such divergent areas as X-ray diagnostics, flat-panel
and advanced telecommunications. Centers for optoelectronics and
laser applications belong here.
The second area is the creation of microscopically tiny structures
in novel ways, with possible applications that include building
low cost computer chips and creating tiny sieves to sort cells and
even genes in new medical diagnostic devices.
This second area, called nanostructures by those in the know, provided
one of the more accessible presentations of the Annual Review, this
one by Stephen Chou, a rising superstar in nanostructures. (The
used to recruit Chou included bringing his entourage of 20 graduate
students from the University of Minnesota and finding $3 million to
renovate and double the size of the department’s "clean"
Chou described the new method he has invented for creating tiny
And we’re talking really tiny. For instance, Chou can create a
with metal elements just 10 nanometers wide, or about three times
the width of a strand of DNA. Such structures are currently created
very expensively by plating or with etching using radioactive
but Chou’s method creates these structures with a microscopically
tiny mold, sort of like a tiny cookie cutter. It’s actually much more
complicated, of course, but that’s the basic idea.
But if scientists can already make these structures, why should we
care that Chou has found a new way to do it? The simple answer: cost.
Scientists currently use nanostructures in many ways, just one of
which is a device to focus laser beams. At present, just one of these
laser focusing devices costs between $10,000 and $25,000. With Chou’s
method, the cost drops to about $100.
Of course, not too many people need laser focusing devices. But by
making nanostructures cheaper and easier to fabricate, Chou’s
has the potential to open up vast new areas of uses for
especially in medical diagnostics. A tiny structure with even tinier
elements could lead to new and economically advantageous ways to
red and white blood cells, for instance, or to create a
device for spectrum analysis of biomaterials, a job that now requires
a very big, very expensive piece of equipment.
Work like Chou’s makes it easy to see why the state of New Jersey
might be willing to throw $1.5 million at POEM and a $8.5 million
to other New Jersey institutions. Who knows? Nanostructures may just
turn out to be the semiconductors of the 21st century; and just as
Stanford spawned Silicon Valley, perhaps Princeton will give birth
to Nano Corridor, with all the jobs and all the tax revenues that
would follow in its wake.
But it’s not only the state that benefits from the
of academe and industry. Individual companies and the university
as well, as explained at the closing session of the Annual Review
of Photonics by Julie Brown, vice president of technological
for Universal Display Corp., the developer of flat-panel displays
and a POEM industry partner, and James Sturm, a professor of
engineering and director of POEM.
For Brown, the benefits to industry in collaborating with university
scientists are obvious. First, cooperation enables companies like
UDC to benefit from the pure scientific power represented by an
like Princeton (U.S. 1, February 25). But in addition, working
with university researchers and their students enables UDC’s
to stay completely up-to-date on developing technologies, and also
gives them the opportunity to work on scientific papers, maintaining
their standing and their involvement in the scientific community.
And it enables companies to meet potential new hires, aiding in
The benefits to the university of such cooperation, however, have
not always been as apparent, James Sturm admits. Sturm is an alumnus
of both Princeton (Class of 1979) and Stanford; he has been at
for 12 years. "Why is Silicon Valley not in New Jersey? The
was invented here," Sturm asked the audience at the Annual Review.
"Is it Princeton’s fault? Well, 30 years ago the university closed
its doors to industry. But today there is a growing awareness that
our success as an academic enterprise depends on working with
The reason for this comes down to one word, Sturm says. People.
There is strong competition for today’s top scientific talent, Sturm
says, and today’s developing scientists are unlike their predecessors
in ways that require universities to maintain close contact with
if they are to have any hope of recruiting the best of them.
Today’s new scientists want to see the impact of their work, Sturm
says. They want to see results. And they want to keep open the option
of an entrepreneurial future for themselves. So to attract the very
best talent, universities need to keep the lines of communication
between academic and industrial researchers open. And the way to do
that, he says, is through the personal interaction fostered by
But Princeton has gone a step further, Sturm says, with such efforts
as its Industrial Affiliates Program, which enables industry
to use university labs for their work. In addition, the university
has taken a page from the Stanford playbook and has begun in recent
years to take equity stakes in the companies to which it licenses
technology, rather than just selling the technologies outright for
And in what is no doubt a revolutionary move for an institution that
famously has none of the professional schools — like law and
and medicine — that its peers do, Princeton now offers two new
year-long engineering master’s programs geared specifically toward
mid-career industrial scientists and budding technological
(U.S. 1, July 22).
Thanks to the encouragement of the state’s financial support, coupled
with what Sturm calls a revolution in the university’s point of view,
POEM represents the kind of close and lasting connection between
and its technology industry neighbors that will benefit all parties
for years to come, he says.
And if we’re lucky, a couple of latter-day Hewletts and Packards may
be quietly at work in the university’s E-Quad right now, on their
way to making the "Nano Corridor" or some similarly fantastic
future for the Princeton area a reality.
— Christopher Mario
Materials, Engineering Quad, J303, Princeton 08544. James C. Sturm,
director. 609-258-4454; fax, 609-258-1954. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Home page: http://www.poem.princeton.edu.
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— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.