February 6, 2004 Ottawa, Ontario--In 1999, fewer than ten universities in the United States offered widely known academic programs under the title of photonics. Run a keyword search for "photonics programs" on the Internet, and you will be overwhelmed by the 65,000 hits. There's no denying that the movement towards creating university level photonics programs is on the rise. Optiwave has created the Optiwave for Educators program in response. The program combines industry standard simulation software tools for student and teacher use, and specific lessons for the classroom. It even uses the same lesson plan outlined in one of the dominant textbooks available today, G. P. Agrawal's book, Fiber-Optic Communication Systems.
Dr. Warren Koontz, program chair of the new Master's program in Telecommunications Engineering Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) first saw Optiwave software in a copy of G.P. Agrawal's book. Dr. Koontz remarked, "I got a copy of the book, and the text included a lite version of Optiwave's OptiSystem software. I liked the interface, and the way it worked." As a result of a successful evaluation, he recently adopted the Optiwave for Educators program as part of the University's initiative to empower students with tools currently used in the industry.
The extensive knowledge of the telecommunications field that Dr. Koontz gained during his 32 years at Bell Labs and Lucent is a key advantage in his role as program chair. His background also gives him a practical application perspective. Dr. Koontz sees the two primary benefits of having Optiwave software tools are the virtual lab capabilities, and the ability to demonstrate complex concepts through simulation and analysis.
Dr. Koontz believes that giving students the option to use a virtual lab is a much more cost-effective alternative to spending upwards of $15,000 on a single piece of test equipment. He explains, "In the case of optical education, the actual communication quality optical hardware and the associated test and measurement equipment is very, very expensive. OptiSystem simulation and analysis capabilities give students something close to a hands-on approach to understanding how optical systems work, even if they don't have access to the expensive test and measurement equipment.
"The course we are running right now, 'Fiber Optic Telecommunications Technology' introduces the students to optical technologies. It covers fibers, laser diodes, LEDs, photodiodes, and optical amplifiers. Students learn about the components and the underlying principles behind them, and they get a handle on how to do some of the analysis. The follow-on course, currently in the planning stage, will be 'Fiber Optic Telecommunications Systems'. The systems course will spend more time on DWDM, multiplexers, and analysing SONET rings. I know that OptiSystem comes with 'Example' files that address all these issues.
RIT is but one of many educational institutions investigating cost-effective alternatives to equipping their labs with expensive test equipment. The Optiwave for Educators program has proven to be not only a cost-effective solution, but also one that can help attract and train strong graduate candidates for industry and research.