Spotlight on photonics at UMBC forum today

Industry is believed to have a promising future in Maryland

January 21, 2003|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

What does the future hold for Maryland's photonics industry? That's one question academics along with government and telecommunications industry officials will address today at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's forum, "Frontiers of Photonics Research."

UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III said the forum came about because the faculty of UMBC's new Center for Advanced Studies in Photonics Research, or CASPER, felt it was important to bring together top researchers from local companies, government and education.

"We have considerable strength in photonics on our campus and have been building this research area for some time," Hrabowski said.

The forum, which runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., is being sponsored by CASPER and is open to the public. The topic of the day is photonics - the study of useful applications of light, such as carrying communication across fibers, and the study of devices that use light, such building laser diodes that can be used to write CDs.

Maryland's photonics industry, which is young and struggling with the telecommunications downturn, includes companies such as Columbia-based Corvis Corp. and Linthicum-based Ciena Corp. Both companies have had layoffs in the past year, while Trellis Photonics Ltd., an Israeli start-up that moved its headquarters to Columbia, closed its U.S. operations last summer.

The agenda for today's photonics forum includes talks by university professors as well as officials from NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, telecommunications firm Corvis and other schools and agencies. It also is to include tours of UMBC labs.

Morton H. Rubin, a physics professor, will use the forum to discuss quantum optics - the study of the properties of light and materials as they interact with light, taking into account how matter behaves on a microscopic level.

"There's a lot of really good science and engineering going on here, and so this is an attempt to try and connect with people in various industries," Rubin said.

Curtis R. Menyuk, a professor of electrical engineering, will talk about experiments being done at UMBC as well as telecom companies that have a major presence in the state. Menyuk is optimistic about the future of the photonics industry in Maryland, and he will present data from Telcordia Technologies Inc., a New Jersey-based telecommunications company, showing that the rate of growth of fiber-optic network capacity is higher than it was 10 years ago.

"The long-term future is good because there's still demand and there's still a lot of growth," Menyuk said. "The rate of growth, in fact, is higher than it was a decade ago."

There are at least 14 scientists working on photonics at UMBC, said Scott A. Bass, dean of the graduate school and vice provost for research and planning at UMBC. CASPER was started in June 2002, with money from NASA, to encourage the scientists to work together toward a larger vision.

Now, the school is trying to tell the outside world that it has strengthened the area of photonics, and private industry must partner with research universities and federal labs in the sector.

"Industry has the ability to look at some of our technologies and see ways they can be used that we might not have thought of, so it's really a way to do this scientific mixing of companies and labs and scientists," Bass said.

Hrabowski also believes that the photonics industry needs more partnering between public and private sectors, and he said he is looking forward to hearing what industry officials and leading research professors have to say.

"It's very important to talk about the role of photonics research in economic development and innovation in the region," Hrabowski said.

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