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  • UNC Symposium Attracts 100
Nov 2007
CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 7, 2007 -- More than 100 members of the optoelectronics community attended the sixth annual symposium of the Charlotte Research Institute (CRI) Center for Optoelectronics and Optical Communications, held last week at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte).

Michael S. Lebby, PhD, president of the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA), kicked off the symposium at Grigg Hall with a well-attended presentation Thursday night on trends in photonics, including the potential for organic LEDs (OLEDs) in solid-state lighting and other applications, especially LCD displays that will enable consumer-based products from TVs to mobile phones and digital assistants.

William H. Grigg Hall, home to the Center for Optoelectronics and Optical Communications and UNC Charlotte's graduate-level physics program. Grigg Hall is named in honor of Duke Energy Chairman Emeritus William H. Grigg, who retired as chairman and CEO in 1997. (Photos courtesy University of North Carolina Charlotte)
The OLED lighting market is forecast to grow 16 percent by 2010, he said, by which time "photonics will be embedded in everyday life." The challenge for that area will be to drive substrate costs down, he added.

Lebby said in 10 years there will be a need to make OLEDs on very large panels; as a result, textiles, flexible substrates and even smart clothing have "great commercial potential, as well as efficient warm, white LEDs that illuminate more ambiantly than current blue LEDs."  Also down the road, he said, are sensors imbedded in cars that will adapt to outside light conditions and sense blind spots, drowsy drivers and even impending collisions. He said batteries are still bulky for clothing incorporating OLED technology but that the textile industry has the potential for very high-volume production, such as fabric using particle-sized photoluminescent pigments with fibers that emit light without electricity.

Lebby said new materials technology, such as quantum dot displays and E-ink, will eventually be used in MPEG video and video games as a result of optoelectronics design freedom created by high-resolution displays. He said innovations will include 3-D TV ("3-D without specs"), laser-based displays and laser TV for HDTV and head-up displays and backlights for LCDs (BLUs). 

Other areas with market potential include terahertz technology for military devices, health applications for sensors such as blood pressure meters in cell phones, and fiber-to-the-x (fttx) broadband connectivity.lab.jpg
The Charlotte Research Institute offers services that derive from its research expertise to partner firms that collaborate with its researchers. The center was just a vision seven years ago, when Advantage Carolina shared results of a study proposing such an entity. In 2002, the Duke Energy Foundation announced a $10 million gift to UNC Charlotte’s campaign to fund CRI programs and initiatives. Construction of its headquarters building at UNC Charlotte began in 2003, with funding from a $3.1 billion bond referendum approved by North Carolina voters in 2000.

With its ninth annual global optoelectronics market summary and forecast, released at a “Perspectives on the Optoelectronics Industry” forum held in September in San Jose, Calif., OIDA extended its traditional trend forecasts to 10 years in many of the covered markets. In 2006, the optoelectronics market achieved new highs with optoelectronics enabled and components reaching $565 billion, a 14.5 percent increase over 2005 ($494 billion), the association said. OIDA forecasts strong and steady growth over the next decade for the optoelectronics enabled and components market with revenues expected to surpass $1.2 trillion by 2017 and a 2007-2017 compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.7 percent.

Within the optoelectronics-enabled products, the growth drivers over the next decade will be solar, computing/processing and consumer displays/TVs, Lebby said. These markets will achieve 2007-2017 CAGR of 17.3 percent, 5.6 and 6.3 percent, respectively, according to OIDA. Their combined total revenues in 2017 are forecasted to top $425 billion. In 2006, these three markets achieved revenues of $198 billion. By 2013, Lebby said, optoelectronics-enabled systems and components will be a trillion dollar industry. "In terms of components, it's growing fast; in enabled systems, consumer displays are huge, and sensors are growing" -- with sensors leading the pack, he said.

mikefiddy.gifMike Fiddy, director of the Center for Optoelectronics and Optical Communications, said the CRI and his center is involved in activities in all of those areas. He introduced Thursday's day-long presentation agenda along with Bob Wilhelm, executive director of the CRI. "UNC Charlotte is really growing," Wilhelm said. "By 2015, as much a 30 percent will be at the graduate level -- a big deal in terms of research and development -- and it's getting bigger, so we're looking forward to working with more companies."
Above: Mike Fiddy, executive director of the Center for Optoelectronics and Optical Communications at UNC Charlotte
In addition to its research mission, Fiddy said, "We're creating a work force in photonics for the future and are trying to develop the capacity to provide resources to companies." Fiddy is well known for his work in the fields of inverse optics, inverse problems and optical engineering. A widely respected researcher, he has facilitated innovative laboratory work in the information-processing field. He earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of London. "UNC Charlotte researchers have long been active in the field of optical science and engineering," he said. "The university's research and collaborative efforts with industry have helped Charlotte become an emerging leader in optical technologies, with firms such as Digital Optics Corp., Corning Cable Systems, General Dynamics ATP and Alcoa Fujikura having plants in the area. UNC Charlotte has excellent faculty, and as it adds more faculty and resources, the center will become a nationally recognized institution."

Lebby echoed that enthusiasm for the center's involvement in current trends in the optics arena. "It really impacts all parts of life," he said. "In areas that are growing, there are tremendous opportunities for center to have an impact and contribute greatly to regional economic growth."

The symposium featured networking opportunities and tours of the CRI's impressive and evolving research facilities (more than 100 acres have been allocated at the UNC campus for the CRI, which will eventually include 12 buildings built roughly around an existing soccer field).mcmahan.jpg
Robert McMahan, PhD, senior science advisor to the State of North Carolina and executive director, North Carolina Board of Science
Speakers also included Bob McMahan, PhD, the North Carolina governor's senior science advisor.

"UNC charlotte is a superb example of a university that is actively creating and thinking about new forms of industry-university engagement, and the Charlotte Research Institute is an excellent example of this type of structure," he said. "This university system has a number of active initiatives around creating a research campus dedicated to these types of public-private collaborations. One of the things that's interesting and distinct about it is that it's a cross-border cluster, incorporating institutions on both sides of both North and South Carolina."

McMahan has longstanding ties to the photonics community. A physicist by training, he is a professor of physics at UNC Chapel Hill; he started his first company, McMahan Research -- an electrooptics systems company based in North Carolina -- as a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the late '80s, and he is cofounder of Control Laser Corp., an Orlando, Fla., laser systems manufacturer.
Physicist and Nobel Laureate William Phillips spoke at the symposium and at a public lecture geared to students from area high schools. Phillips won the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics, with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and Steven Chu, for his contributions to laser cooling -- a technique to slow the movement of atoms -- at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He is also a  professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Other speakers included Ron Scotti, PhD, SPIE's science and technology strategist; Michael Feldman, CTO of Tessera NA (formerly UNC spinoff Digital Optics Inc.); George Simonis, microphotonics branch chief, Army Research Laboratory; Edward B. Stokes, UNC Charlotte electrical and computer engineering professor, on micro and nanooptics at UNC-Charlotte; Robert Hocken, PhD, a professor of mechanical engineering and engineering science at UNC Charlotte, on engineering nanotechnology; Nathaniel M. Fried, PhD, assistant professor of urology, Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, Md., and director of the biophotonics laboratory at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, on biomedical optics; George Stegeman, professor of optics, physics and engineering at the University of Central Florida College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL & FPCE); and William Phillips, 1997 Nobel Laureate, on optics with laser-like atom waves. Phillips also presented "Time, Einstein and the Coolest Stuff in the Universe" Friday at a public presentation geared toward area high-school students.

unccorning.jpgThe CRI is the industry and education portal for UNC Charlotte. Its creaton followed an unusual path, said Scott Carlberg, who manages its public affairs. "Typically," he said, "university institutes emerge organically from an academic institution. CRI emerged from broad-based community activism in Charlotte."

Charlotte engaged in a comprehensive assessment of its economic needs in the late 1990s. Industry, government and academia assessed regional economic trends and possibilities. Among the resulting recommendations in this “Advantage Carolinas” study, managed by a McKinsey executive, Peter Sidebottom, was an accelerated research track at UNC Charlotte. McKinsey is now with Wachovia and has been active on the board since its inception.

Above and below: Exhibitors at the sixth annual symposium of the Charlotte Research Institute (CRI) Center for Optoelectronics and Optical Communications, held last week at UNC Charlotte.
unctesserabooth.jpgCRI became the umbrella for four research centers: Optoelectronics, precision metrology, life science (especially bioinformatics, medical devices and brain tumor research) and eBusiness (modeling and visualization, in particular).

Wilhelm said, “Each discipline was chosen to enhance economic development in the region and capitalize on our faculty abilities and knowledge base. UNC Charlotte has a reputation for applied research, and each area of study is especially tuned to work that can jump from the concept to the commercial use.”

This alignment with industry was echoed by Kevin Drehmer, who is founding member of and now chairs the CRI board. He is also general manager of optics manufacturer Tessera NA, based in Charlotte. “CRI has dual roles – research and economic development. They support each other. That emphasis starts at the board level, and we have a highly involved board,” he said.

Kevin Drehmer, chairman of CRI's board and general manager of Tessera NA, a Charlotte-based optics company.

Drehmer said there has been a deliberate analysis and evolution of the CRI board and that the founding board was a “who’s who” in the region and state, lending the effort immediate credibility.

"With successful CRI research efforts, startups and a physical presence solidly in place, the board is evolving to more highly technical and entrepreneurial people, complementing the remaining base of finance and management board representatives. We actually graph the skill sets and networks of current and prospective board members to ensure that we cover the right bases."

He said CRI operates with the mantra that university boards need tending to be successful. Wilhelm and Drehmer practice "a keen ownership of the board development process, ensuring the board knows the people processes and prospects that make CRI a success. And board members all know of their expectation to participate in a bottom-line business sense.

"The Charlotte Research Institute believes that 'research and development' don’t only happen in a lab," Drehmer added. "When the leaders of the Institute are informed and empowered, the work in the labs comes naturally."

The center is part of the Carolinas MicroOptics Triangle (CMOT -- a nationally recognized photonics cluster) and the Carolinas Photonics Consortium, both of which are bringing a focus to the strengths and capabilities of the photonics community throughout the Carolinas. The optoelectronics center, along with its collaborators in CMOT, has organized a number of trade show exhibits to publicize the photonics capabilities of the region.

Currently there are about 150 optoelectronics companies in the Carolinas.CRI already has a good number of business, academic and government lab partners; among those exhibiting at the symposium were AFL Telecommunications, Agilent, AGS Plasma Systems, Alcatel Micro Machining Systems (MMS), Busch Semiconductor Vacuum Group, CMOT, Corning, FEI Phenom, Luna Innovations, Nexxus Lighting, Ophir-Spiricon, OSA (Optical Society of America), PVA TePla, SPIE, SSE Sister Semiconductor Equipment GmbH, Tessera NA, Tousimis, USCONEC and Western Carolina University. General Dymamics, EXFO, ILX Lightwave, Northrop Grumman, Solectron, Tektronix and Tetramer Technologies are also involved in the center's continued development.

The heart of the CRI is a class 100 cleanroom, which is available for all micro- and nano-optics fabrication requirements. A portion of the facility will be class 1000 for experimental work with less stringent requirements. Total cleanroom space is approximately 3000 sq ft. The cleanroom includes necessary facilities, such as advanced lithography and processing, for the fabrication of complex optoelectronic devices and integrated circuits, including a Molecular Imprint Inc. Imprio 100 nanoimprint tool. High-purity water is provided by a recirculating deionized system. Purge and process gases are plumbed throughout the facility. It also boasts an optoelectronic and optical device fabrication facility, which will be a key part of the center's program in which faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will conduct research to implement and test ideas. In turn, they will acquire new expertise and training to develop new optoelectronic devices and subassemblies. Equipment will include a rapid sol-gel system, submicron precision mask alignment system and reactive ion-etching systems.

Also underway is an optical characterization and measurement facility in which dedicated analytical instruments will allow researchers to test and measure major optical properties by destructive and nondestructive methods. These properties include surface morphology, crystal structure, purity, diffusion depth and index distribution. The facility will contain dedicated experimental stations to determine optical coefficients of material and devices including optical gain, loss, quality factors and other optical constants. The laboratory will house instruments to measure electro-optic, magneto-optic, acousto-optic, transmission, absorption and nonlinear factors.

UNC Charlotte already operates the leading university precision metrology laboratory in the US. The CRI facility will significantly extend those capabilities.

"Optical metrology will continue to enable advances in communication, electro-optics, and information technology as well as increase the quality and capability of more familiar products like automobiles and aircraft," CRI said in a statement.

Its optical metrology facility will include the following instrumentation and supporting database systems: a scanned probe microscope system, atomic force microscopes, scanning near-field microscope, scanning laser confocal microscope, scanning electron microscope and an x-ray interferometer test stand. An optical communications infrastructure facility will include tunable communication laser systems, fiber fusion splicing systems, network analyzers, optical spectrum analyzers, optical fiber measurement and characterization systems, optical polarization analyzers and supporting instrumentation and subsystems.

The center also has a dedicated research fiber network connecting it to its CMOT partners (Western Carolina University and Clemson).

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