Archive for Tuesday, March 4, 1997


March 4, 1997


KU celebrates a university/corporate partnership designed to improve transmission of information along optical fibers.

Bill Edwards relied Monday on his own voice -- the least technological method available -- to transmit the promise of a new Kansas University lab dedicated to fiber-optic communications research.

"We've got a great team. The chemistry is right," said Edwards, chief scientist for Sprint Long Distance in Overland Park.

This Lightwave Communication Systems lab on KU's West Campus was financed by $4 million in public and private funds.

The lab's primary objective will be to increase the carrying capacity of thread-thin optical fibers used in high-speed data transmission.

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway hailed the laboratory's opening as an example of what could be accomplished through collaboration of a public university and private industry.

"What this project demonstrates is ... the university and private industry can find ways to work together for mutual benefit," Hemenway said.

In this case, support came from Sprint Corp.; Lucent Technologies of Murray Hill, N.J.; National Science Foundation; and Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp.

Sam Shanmugan, director of the Information and Telecommunication Technology Center, which includes the lab, said the optical fibers could funnel all sorts of information -- voices speaking into a telephone, words and images on a computer screen, and videos.

He said light waves moving along optical fibers serve as a medium for transmitting information in much the same way air serves as a medium for carrying information from a radio station to a listener.

Just as radio broadcasts don't overlap because each has assigned radio frequencies, transmissions over optical fibers are kept separate by use of different light-wave frequencies.

Packing more information into the fibers is possible because optical fibers, like the human brain, aren't used to full capacity.

"Most long-distance communications companies transmit 2.4 billion bits per second on one optical fiber. That capacity could be increased 10,000-fold," said Victor Frost, KU professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

Frost said KU has the only light-wave communications lab in the state. Development of this technology is important to the state's economy, he said.

In addition to the telecommunications industry, possible beneficiaries of light-wave research include manufacturers of airlines and medical instruments.

In terms of aviation, the weight advantage of replacing copper cabling with optical fiber has prompted a move toward light-wave systems.

Medical-instrument designers are interested in development of optical techniques for monitoring the status of patients.

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