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Lehigh University Expands Optical Technology Capabilities with Dedication of New Lab; Major New Facility Fosters Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration, Boosts Regional Efforts to Create Optics ''Hub''.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Lehigh University today opened the Smith Family Laboratory for Optical Technologies, a state-of-the-art facility designed to contribute to the global pursuit of optics innovation in telecommunications as well as a far broader set of applications and technologies.

The new facility provides researchers the ability to make and analyze new classes of optical materials, and to model, design, test and fabricate new optical devices - all in one building. Furthermore, the lab will enable researchers from various fields to apply their combined talents to a host of issues, including the use of novel photonic integration techniques for eventual biomedical, military, pharmaceutical, and communication application.

Crossing Disciplinary Borders

With the addition of this new facility, Lehigh's Center for Optical Technologies (COT) will continue to expand its core research specialties in photonics and optics beyond telecommunications to a host of new applications in a wide variety of fields.

"The optics field is wide-ranging and ripe with opportunities within and beyond telecommunications," said Tom Koch, director of Lehigh's Center for Optical Technologies. "Optics has already had an astounding effect on our ability to instantly access enormous volumes of information at unlimited distances. But there's more to enabling widespread deployment than raw speed, namely, the handling of this traffic and the reduction of costs."

To respond, Lehigh researchers and industry partners are working to use light signals to switch and route other light signals, as well as to convert signals to new wavelengths that enable more efficient network routing. The goal is to facilitate faster and less costly digital communications - possibly providing higher throughputs with reduced heat generation and dissipation.

Koch continued, "We're committed to helping leverage the knowledge and highly sophisticated devices, materials, and technologies developed for telecommunications into emerging areas. For example, new optical devices and techniques are showing great promise for the life sciences. Research in biophotonics is leading toward non-invasive, real-time monitors that improve the precision of medical diagnostics and treatment. In other applications, sensors can provide real-time information on reliability and impending failure of superstructures, and can support homeland security and military logistics by detecting environmental and biohazard threats. We're also exploring flexible displays that could change the way society accesses information for education, entertainment, business and government."

"Simply put, the optics community is just scratching the surface of what can be accomplished by partnering with other disciplines; working with the other world-renowned research centers already in place at Lehigh, we're joining the vanguard of institutions leading the way."

Northeastern PA: The Silicon Valley of Optics?

According to Daniel E. Smith, President and CEO of optical networking pioneer, Sycamore Networks, Inc., the new lab will spur economic growth in the Lehigh Valley and promote research collaborations that are crucial to the advancement of optical technologies.

"This new laboratory is a very exciting development for Lehigh that will promote long-term economic development in the Lehigh Valley and beyond," said Smith, who is also a Lehigh alumnus (Class of 1971) and helped support the creation of the lab. "I am confident that the facility will become a magnet for true multidisciplinary projects and help make Lehigh significantly more competitive in its research endeavors."

Smith elaborated by saying that the laboratory, in addition to being a significant asset for Lehigh, represents a major resource for Lehigh Valley businesses and the Eastern Pennsylvania economy. Along with its role as an academic research center, the laboratory acts as a hub for a growing family of regional businesses and start-ups in the optics arena that draws upon the rich optical-engineering talent pool that exists across the Northeastern Pennsylvania/New Jersey corridor.

New Capabilities

The four-story Smith Family Lab, which includes a 3,000-square-foot clean room area, was constructed in less than 18 months, at a cost of $6 million. The centerpieces of the new lab are its clean room and epitaxial growth facilities. Epitaxy is the process by which nanoscale layers of single-crystal material are deposited on a single-crystal substrate so that the crystal atomic alignment is reproduced in the growing material. The epitaxy facility will give researchers the capability to develop new compound semiconductors that emit light from infrared wavelengths all the way into the ultraviolet range, while the clean room provides the ability to convert this into new devices that perform new functions.

The lab will also provide researchers with the facilities to grow lasers on silicon substrates and to combine multiple optical materials and devices on one substrate, much as engineers now etch integrated circuits onto silicon chips.

"The technology for processing electronic technologies on a silicon chip is very well understood," said Koch. "We want to bring optical communications technology to the same level of understanding, and create opportunities for innovation by working with researchers from disciplines where optics could make a major impact."

The COT (, which has jointly received $63 million in funding since opening in 2001, is a partnership that includes Lehigh, Penn State University, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Northampton Community College, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and two dozen industrial firms.

About Lehigh

For nearly 140 years, Lehigh University ( has combined outstanding academic and learning opportunities with leadership in fostering innovative research. The institution is among the nation's most selective, highly ranked private research universities. Lehigh's four colleges - College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business and Economics, College of Education and the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science - provide opportunities to 6,500 students to discover and grow in a learning community that promotes interdisciplinary programs with real-world experience. Lehigh's campus is located in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley - in Bethlehem, PA (50 miles north of Philadelphia and 75 miles southwest of New York City).
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Oct 21, 2005
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