Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, December 13, 2000
Promising field of photonics gets boost from $50 million gift to Stanford, Duke

High-tech entrepreneur Michael J. Fitzpatrick and his wife, Patty, will donate $25 million each to Stanford and Duke universities to establish new centers for advanced photonics, the presidents of both institutions announced Wednesday.

Engineers say photonics, a technology that melds light with electronics, is at a stage of development similar to where electronics was in the 1950s. It promises high-speed, broadband fiberoptic Internet communications for use in next generation applications in education, medicine, entertainment and commerce.

"We're moving from an electronic world to an optical world," Michael Fitzpatrick said. "We want to help create at Duke and Stanford the world's finest centers for photonics, which we hope will coalesce universities, industry and government to enable the full attainment of the potential of optics."

But right now a critical shortage of trained photonics engineers endangers progress. "The problem is going to become increasingly severe as optics plays a role of growing importance in the future," Fitzpatrick said. The couple's gift addresses that shortfall by creating centers of research excellence to "attract great students and great faculty with great labs, advanced curricula and industry internships."

Michael Fitzpatrick is the former chairman, chief executive officer and president of E-TEK Dynamics Inc., a leading manufacturer of fiberoptic components, instruments and systems for the telecommunications and cable television industries. He has served as CEO of Network Systems Corp. and president and CEO of Pacific Telesis Enterprises. He joined E-TEK Dynamics in 1997 as president and CEO, and was named chairman in 1999. In June 2000, E-TEK merged with JDS Uniphase Corp. in the second-largest merger in the history of the telecommunications industry.

President John L. Hennessy, a computer scientist who formerly was dean of the Stanford School of Engineering, said the twin gifts signal the growing importance of photonics as a discipline with broad societal applications.

"We already have seen its dramatic role in the growth of the Internet, and I am quite sure that this is just the beginning of the increased influence that photonics will have in the information society," Hennessy said. "For Stanford, the generosity of the Fitzpatricks makes an important contribution toward completion of the Science and Engineering Quad, helping to fulfill a vision that has been central to the university's mission in recent years."

Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane said, "We are enormously grateful to Michael and Patty for their farsighted vision, which will enable the Pratt School of Engineering to provide national leadership in research and teaching in one of the most exciting and promising technologies of the 21st century. These new centers will enable Duke and Stanford to educate future generations of photonics engineers, and to develop joint educational and research programs involving our students and faculty. We plan to be aggressive in developing partnerships with industry that will bring the latest advances in photonics technologies to market for the betterment of society."

Professor Jim Plummer, dean of the Stanford School of Engineering, said the gift "represents a remarkable commitment by two individuals who believe in the power of basic university research and teaching to provide the future ideas and technologies for an industry that will play a major role in all of our lives in the next century."

The Fitzpatricks are both alumni of Duke, where they met. Michael received his bachelor's degree in 1970; Patty in 1969.

Michael Fitzpatrick currently serves as a director of NorthPoint Communications Group Inc., a national provider of local data network DSL services; Adva Optical Networking, a worldwide optical networking solutions provider located in Germany; and FLAG Telecom, a leading independent provider of undersea fiberoptics and services based in the United Kingdom.

Patty Fitzpatrick is president of the Fitzpatrick Foundation, which supports in-school and after-school programs for economically disadvantaged Northern California youths in grades K-12.

Michael Fitzpatrick said the commitment of both institutions to excellence in engineering and their locations in California's Silicon Valley and North Carolina's Research Triangle Park make Stanford and Duke "the perfect homes for major centers in teaching and research in photonics and for the kind of industrial partnerships we envision."

"This is a major undertaking by Stanford and Duke," he said. "Working together is going to dramatically ensure the chances of success and speed up the number of graduates, the caliber of the research, and the amount done." Fitzpatrick said he hopes the gift will encourage other schools to undertake photonics research as well. "The good thing is Duke and Stanford will be in it early," he said.

Many factors influenced the Fitzpatricks' decision to manifest their vision at two universities.

"Stanford School of Engineering is well known in Silicon Valley and around the world as a leader in advanced technology and for its critical collaborations with industry," said Michael Fitzpatrick. "We are also tremendously impressed by the innovative approaches to research and education that the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke is developing under its new dean, Kristina Johnson." The Fitzpatricks said they also were impressed with Duke's top reputation in bioengineering, a field in which optics will have increasing importance.

They also cited the importance of industrial experience of leaders at both institutions. Electrical engineering Professor David A.B. Miller, who will direct the new photonics institute at Stanford, was at AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1981 to 1996. Johnson, a Stanford alumna who helped start five high-tech companies, is an internationally known expert in optics, signal processing and computing. She directed the Optoelectronics Computing Systems Center at the University of Colorado before being named dean of Duke's engineering school last year.

David Brady, who recently was recruited to Duke from the University of Illinois where he was a leader in the Photonic Systems Group of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, will head the Duke center. His photonics research focuses on 3-D video, holography and ultra-fast optical systems.

Michael Fitzpatrick said when he and his wife first started looking for a university to house a photonics center, "we weren't sure where we were going to go -- and we certainly weren't going to do two. But in the end we couldn't choose one over the other."

"An important factor in our decision to make twin gifts is the potential for collaboration between these two great universities and the opportunity to quickly increase the number of graduates coming into the field," Patty Fitzpatrick said.

To enhance their education, research and outreach programs, the new centers will emphasize creating research and development partnerships with photonics-related corporations. The universities will collaborate in distance learning and joint research and symposia. Industry partners will be invited to participate in the centers' technology advisory boards, joint research and degree programs, professional master's degree programs and internship programs. Corporate partners also will participate in the centers' technology program to license new technology developed at the centers and to create new companies based on those technologies.

Photonics is technology that generates and harnesses light, whose smallest discrete quantity is the photon. It is built upon optics, a field encompassing the generation and propagation of light, and optoelectronics, the technology through which photons interact with electrons. But its applications -- information processing, sensing and carrying information and high-speed communication over long distances -- go a step beyond optics.

The market potential for photonics is staggering. Sales of optoelectronic equipment are expected to reach $34 billion in 2006, according to industry analyst Electronicast. Internet growth, deregulation of the telephone industry, video and teleconferencing all fuel this growth.

"The photonics business is growing faster than Microsoft grew," said Miller. "It's increasing in capacity and capabilities faster than Moore's Law." (Moore's Law says that the number of transistors that can be packed on a computer chip -- an indicator of performance -- will double every 18 to 24 months.) "The major driving application is optical networks used to send data over any distance."

Said Johnson at Duke: "Optical fibers will ultimately be capable of transmitting 'terabits' (trillion bits of data) per second -- exceeding the total traffic on the Internet today. Advances in network capacity through photonics will enable instant availability of whole libraries of information, high-definition video on demand, three-dimensional multi-sensory displays and real-time 'telepresence' by which people can immerse themselves in distant environments for remote surgery."

Miller said continuous basic research over 40 years has built the understanding of lasers and applications "that we're now exploiting to deliver these optical photonic systems that can benefit everybody."

"It is very important that we continue the basic research in universities. With the rapid growth of markets and the short development cycles of photonic products, industry has less time to do research. It is also very important that we train the next generation of photonics professionals with the broad skills needed by industry."

John Chambers, president and CEO of Cisco Systems, said that a large portion of future Internet growth is in optics "and there is a critical shortage of trained optical engineers in the high-tech industry. The Fitzpatricks' generous donation to both Stanford and Duke will create world-class optical engineering programs. I commend Michael Fitzpatrick and his family for their tremendous generosity, leadership and commitment to funding centers of optical engineering at Stanford and Duke universities."

At Duke, the Fitzpatrick Center for Advanced Photonics and Communications Systems will occupy one of two 120,000-square-foot buildings that will be part of a new $77 million interdisciplinary engineering and applied sciences plaza to be completed in 2003 near the current Pratt School buildings. One of the new buildings also will be named for the Fitzpatricks. Duke's academic plan, which is scheduled for final review and adoption by the university's trustees in February, anticipates a $100 million investment in the Pratt School's photonics initiatives.

At Stanford, the university will erect a new $60 million Fitzpatrick Center for Photonics in the Science and Engineering Quadrangle over the next five years. Officials expect the new building to be complete and fully functional by summer of 2004. The state-of-the-art building, which will replace the outdated Ginzton Lab building, will house shared core equipment, research facilities and teaching laboratories.

Duke University News Service contributed to this report.

Michael and Patty Fitzpatrick
photo: L.A. Cicero