Public Release: 

Lehigh receives $1 million from state for optical technologies center

Lehigh University

Lehigh will partner with industry leaders, including Lucent, Corning, Sycamore Networks; Center's unique research focus will make it one of a kind

Lehigh University announced today (1/31) it has received $1 million from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to create a Center for Optical Technologies designed to advance research and commercialization of optical technologies. Optical communication technology is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world that is linked to increasing the effectiveness of transferring data using high-speed optical fiber systems.

The center will be have partnerships with industry leaders, including Lucent Technologies, Corning and Sycamore Networks, as well as regional start-up companies and other Pennsylvania colleges and universities.

"The establishment of a Center for Optical Technologies at Lehigh University is exciting news for both the university and the region," said Farrington. "The center will allow us to continue to provide the most distinctive academic programs while increasing our role as a leading intellectual catalyst for economic development in the region."

The one-time, $1-million funding is being provided by the Department of Community and Economic Development's Pennsylvania Technology Investment Authority (PTIA). Lehigh will use the funds to lay the groundwork for a multi-institutional, industry-led enterprise that academic, government and industry officials believe could transform the economic trajectory of the region and the Commonwealth.

In addition to the state funding, Lehigh also is investing in optical technologies as part of a $75-million initiative announced last October to enhance the university's academic excellence. The university will also pursue federal and industry funding to further extend the center's impact.

"Eastern Pennsylvania is ideally situated to advance optical technologies and transfer them to industry," said Sam McCullough, secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development. "In the state, we have three of the largest players in the optical communications industry in Lucent Technologies, Corning and JDS. There are new start-up companies being formed every day. And we have some of the finest research universities in the world.

"Lehigh's Center for Optical Technologies will help further Gov. Ridge's vision to shape the Commonwealth into a high-tech state," said Secretary McCullough. "By developing and investing in fiber optic communications technologies, we are helping Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley region achieve a leadership position in the new economy."

The key to developing optical technologies is having a strong university-industry partnership so that research and technology transfer are a seamless enterprise, said Farrington, noting that Lehigh has a long history of collaboration with industry. Optical technologies are critical to taking the Internet revolution to the next level because it will enable more data to be transmitted over the Internet at higher speeds.

In addition to large and small companies, the Lehigh center will collaborate with the Pennsylvania State University and the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania on research and technology transfer. The groups will focus on advancing critical technologies and research, as well as attracting and retaining student and professional talent in the Commonwealth.

Developing degree and non-degree education programs to feed graduates to an industry that has a strong need for employees with the appropriate skills at all levels is also an important aspect of the center. Academic programs offered at Lehigh in conjunction with the creation of the Center for Optical Technologies will include in optical communications, optics, photonics, and optoelectronics, as well as business programs to assist those starting their own businesses or moving into managerial roles. Northampton Community College will develop a two-year associate degree program for production and technical employees.

Facilities involved in activities such as a device fabrication facility and a high-speed systems test bed, will be structured at the Lehigh center to be used for shared research and "rented" to regional companies for their proprietary use as needed.

Lehigh plans to hire a director who will lead efforts to develop a global network of partners to ensure the center is truly a world-class enterprise. The director will also develop strategic plans for the center, develop technology and business curricula and Web-based distance learning programs.

The Lehigh center will differ from traditional academic research centers in that start-up companies will conduct research at the location, share company equipment, faculty and research personnel, and recruit employees who might work for both a company and an academic institution. This kind of collaboration, according to Farrington, is key to the rapid advancement of research and technology transfer.

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