The word "hybrid," borrowed from the science of genetics, is now frequently used to describe a trend in fiberoptic components. I was pondering its meaning in this new context when a long-forgotten name came to mind, that of Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian monk and gardener who formulated the scientific laws governing inheritance and the creation of hybrids. With a bit of research I then discovered Luther Burbank, the American horticulturist who developed many new plant varieties, including the Burbank (later renamed Idaho) potato, which was introduced in Ireland to help combat the blight epidemic.
From his gardens and farm near Santa Rosa, CA, Burbank made multiple crosses of foreign and native strains to obtain new hybrid seedlings. He grafted these seedlings onto fully developed plants so he could quickly assess their characteristics. At one point he had 3000 experiments under way involving millions of plants.
Hybrids, although usually sterile, are often stronger than the standard varieties that give rise to them. This is the case—and the point—of hybrids in fiberoptic components. Standard components such as lasers, detectors, waveguides, filters, and amplifiers are difficult to integrate on one platform for reasons that range from material compatibility issues to differences in manufacturing and packaging.
In their article on integrating receiver components, Mark Itzler and Sabbir Rangwala of JDS Uniphase make the case for the importance of integrating traditionally discrete analog and digital functions, particularly since high-performance components must be made at low cost and in high volumes. An article on planar lightwave circuits by Bob Shine and Jerry Bautista at WaveSplitter Technologies looks at some of the opportunities for semiconductor-like integration available with different substrate and deposition materials.
Ray Chen at Radiant Photonics, in our "Talking Technology" interview, repeatedly drives home the potential of hybrid components and of mastering the necessary manufacturing and packaging processes to produce them in volume. And in our market report, Jeff and Stephen Montgomery at ElectroniCast point out that optoelectronic integrated circuits—a hybrid if ever there was one—is already a rapidly growing market and should reach $2.6 billion by 2005.
Creating hybrids from different technologies is not really new, but to do so successfully in fiberoptics requires a deep understanding of the roles of optical and electrical components, their fundamental properties, and the means by which they are produced. The people who have the foresight to think about hybrids are looking to the future—not what works now but what will be necessary for future innovation.
If you are interested in learning more about one such person in the past, take a trip on the Web to the Luther Burbank Virtual Museum (http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/activity/Lbsite).
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W. Conard Holton
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief