Princeton has a global reputation for fiber optics, thanks in large part to early recruiting efforts.

Paul Prucnal (pronounced with a soft C) was lured from Columbia University in 1988. “New Jersey wanted to stimulate growth in this high tech area, and Princeton University needed more interaction with industry,” says Prucnal. “It was the vision of Stu Schwartz, the department chairman, that, with Bell Labs and AT&T, New Jersey could be the telecommunications alley.”

Though New Jersey’s reputation in telecommunication dropped sharply with the dotcom bust, Prucnal, in the meantime,he developed revolutionary fiber optic networks that can “switch light with light,” getting rid of the bottlenecks that occur when system changes have to be processed by a computer. In the 1990s he filed for the seminal patents to this system, called TOAD (terrahertz optical assymetric demultiplexer).

Though Prucnal prefers to teach and work in his lab, the university licensed the patents to Israeli investors who set up a firm, Kailight Photonics, in Richardson, Texas, the current home of most of the national telecommunications firms.

Yet Prucnal can point to about 100 area companies that tap the resources of the PRISM’s materials laboratories. The university also enjoys strong collaborations with two College Road-based firms, Siemens and NEC. “NEC has been both intellectually and financially helpful to us,” says Prucnal. “Having companies that can validate what we do — that is what we need.”

PRISM (Princeton Institute for Science and Technology of Materials), 70 Prospect Avenue, Bowen Hall, Princeton 08544; 609-258-4580. James C. Sturm, director. www.prism.princeton.edu

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