$50 Million for Photonics



Bicoastal balance: The Fitzpatricks' gift establishes research centers for both Duke and Stanford. 
Photo: L. A. Cicero.

igh-tech entrepreneur Michael J. Fitzpatrick '70 and his wife, Patty Wyngaarden Fitzpatrick '69, will donate $25 million to Duke and $25 million to Stanford University to establish new centers for advanced photonics. 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 fiber optic 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 says. "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."

Currently, 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," says Fitzpatrick. The couple's gift is meant to address that shortfall by creating centers of research excellence to "attract great students and great faculty with great labs, advanced curricula, and industry internships."

This in turn will 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. Besides 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.

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.

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. There will also be corporate links with the center's translational technology program to license new technology and to create new companies. Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane says 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.

Michael Fitzpatrick is the former chair, 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 been 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 chair in 1999. In June 2000, E-TEK merged with JDS Uniphase Corp. in the second-largest merger in the history of the telecommunications industry.

The Fitzpatricks met while they were students at Duke. He is currently 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 fiber optics and services based in the United Kingdom. She 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 says 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."

Many factors influenced the Fitzpatricks' decision to manifest their vision at two universities, including Stanford's reputation for technology and Duke's reputation in bioengineering. "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," he says, adding that Johnson's industrial experience was another plus. 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. 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.

According to Pratt School Dean 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 have encouraged their growth." 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.

Reflecting 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 in photonics for industry and government engineers and administrators.


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