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Duke photonics center will help state cultivate a 'photon forest' through corporate partnerships, research and education

DURHAM, N.C. The new $100 million Fitzpatrick Center for Advanced Photonics and Communications Systems at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering aims to help turn North Carolina into a "photon forest" where research and development in photonics can create the kind of technological advance and economic growth found in California's Silicon Valley.

Stimulating the development of the Duke center is a $25 million gift to the university from high-tech entrepreneur Michael J. Fitzpatrick and his wife, Patty. They are giving a similar gift to establish a new photonics center at Stanford University.

In addition to its education and research programs, the Duke center will emphasize research and development partnerships with the many photonics-related corporations in the state, as well as with North Carolina universities involved in the technology of computing and communicating using photons -- the fundamental particle of light.

Industry partners will be invited to participate in the center's technology advisory board, joint research and degree programs, professional master's degree program and internship program. Corporate partners also will participate in the center's translational technology program to license new technology developed in the center and to create new companies based on that technology.

"The new photonics center at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, with its ability to channel research, technology and innovation from university researchers to factory floors, brings enormous potential for economic growth and gives our state a competitive advantage in the high-tech global economy," said Gov.-elect Mike Easley. "I commend the Fitzpatrick family for their visionary gift to establish this program. Their investment is an exciting step forward in building North Carolina's economy and creating jobs for the future."

Developing collaborations with industry and with other research universities in North Carolina is among the highest priorities in Duke's long-range academic plan. Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane said the photonics initiative is a "prime example" of the kinds of university-industry-government partnerships she expects will be a catalyst for the future economic health of the region and state.

"Our strategic planning process has convinced us that there are considerable opportunities for leveraging the several hundreds of millions of dollars that Duke will be investing over the next five years in strengthening such high-priority areas as photonics and genomics," Keohane said. The university last month launched a $200 million Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy as a comprehensive approach to the broad challenges of the ethical and policy issues arising from the unraveling of the genetic code and corresponding technological advances.

Keohane praised North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. for his support of the photonics initiative and his "persuasive power" in discussions with the Fitzpatricks about their gift and its importance to Duke and to the state of North Carolina.

"Governor Hunt genuinely believes in the importance of university-industry-government partnerships and made a strong case for creating this new center at Duke," Keohane said.

Hunt, who met with the Fitzpatricks in October, said: "North Carolina is already home to some of the world's most successful optics leaders, as well as many newer companies that are quickly establishing a presence in this exciting industry. The Fitzpatricks' gift to launch the Center for Advanced Photonics and Communications at Duke is the latest evidence of North Carolina's leadership in high technology and is an excellent example of the kinds of partnerships that will keep our economy strong."

According to Pratt School Dean Kristina Johnson, "North Carolina enjoys the same kinds of advantages that historically gave rise to the Silicon Valley in California. We have world-class research universities, including North Carolina State University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke. And, we have a burgeoning cadre of industrial leaders in photonics-related fields such as telecommunications, computers, wireless and optical networks, software, three-dimensional visualization, bioprocessing and bioinformatics. And, all these resources have been nurtured by a dynamic, forward-looking state government whose policies and investment in such facilities as the MCNC have encouraged their growth.

"We hope to forge close ties with many of the state's 300 telecommunications and optical fiber companies, to help provide them technology, training, and expert consultation," she said.

To Johnson, an expert in optics, signal processing and computing, the Fitzpatrick Center for Advanced Photonics and Communications Systems will constitute a "seed crystal" to help the "photon forest" flourish.

"As the global leader in optical Internet, Nortel Networks is tremendously excited about the establishment of the Pratt School's new Fitzpatrick Center for Advanced Photonics and Communications," said Clarence Chandron, Nortel Networks' chief executive officer. "Through this new center, we will team together to create a profitable, high-performance Internet, forever changing the way education, commerce and communication occur.

"It is difficult to overstate the importance of Duke's photonics initiative and the Fitzpatricks' catalytic gift. The opportunity to partner in education and research programs with the Pratt School will provide Nortel Networks with a steady flow of highly trained photonics engineers, opportunities for the continual learning required by our sophisticated work force, and access to and involvement in advanced research. The potential for a collaborative web between the university, industry and government marks a milestone in North Carolina's journey to becoming a world leader in one of the most exciting technological developments of the 21st century, the optical Internet."

The Duke center will occupy one of two 120,000-square-foot buildings that will be part of a new Interdisciplinary Engineering and Applied Sciences Plaza to be built near the current Pratt School buildings. The three-floor photonics building will be named for the Fitzpatricks and is targeted to be completed in the fall of 2003.

The center will be the home for at least 21 research and visiting faculty, 33 postdoctoral fellows, 22 staff and up to 138 graduate and 40 undergraduate students. The center's five laboratories will concentrate on research in light wave communication systems and components; receivers and sensor signal processing networks; displays and visualization, and biophotonic sensors and sources.

Duke already has recruited David Brady from the University of Illinois to head the photonics center. His research includes 3-D video, holography and ultra-fast optical systems. Also joining him in the Duke center is spouse Rachael Brady, who was director of the Integrated Systems Laboratory of the Beckman Institute at Illinois.

"Examples of the technologies that will grow from Duke's new photonics program include sensors that measure the density and distribution of specific chemicals and pathogens in living tissue; networks that provide viewer-specific, three-dimensional video on demand; components that enable ultra-broadband communications, and information environments that make access to the wealth of human knowledge as simple as pressing a computer key," David Brady said.

Among its educational efforts, the center will create a Fitzpatrick Photonics Society of Scholars, inviting talented Duke undergraduates to join in their upperclass years to work toward a master's or doctoral degree in photonics following their undergraduate degree. The center also will develop an undergraduate certificate program in photonics for engineering and science students, and for non-technical Duke undergraduate majors, a Communications Sciences and Engineering Program.

In following Duke's emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching and research, the center will work with Trinity College of Arts and Sciences to develop courses for law, medicine and life science undergraduates in such areas as communications networks, digital imaging, visualization and multimedia communications.

At the graduate level, the center will develop a professional master's degree program in photonics and communications systems, as well as traditional master's and doctoral programs specializing in photonics. The center will also offer short courses, or "boot camps" in photonics for industry and government engineers and administrators.


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