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(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


like POEM.

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

Princeton University Photonics and Optoelectronic

Materials, Engineering Quad, J303, Princeton 08544. James C. Sturm,

director. 609-258-4454; fax, 609-258-1954. E-mail:

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