Sorcerer's apprentice

April 1, 2002

Materials science isn't magic, but it is a seldom-mastered realm that lies at the heart of all optical component design and performance. Without a fundamental understanding of materials such as silicon, gallium, and arsenic, optical communications as we know it would not exist. The researchers who have "magically" opened the door to this realm are everywhere in our industry, from the laboratory to the boardroom.

And yet polymeric materials, despite their ubiquitous presence, have never won much acceptance in the industry. Our lead feature, written

by Louay Eldada at Telephotonics, makes the case that optical polymers are finally beginning to prove out. Of special interest is his list of 16 companies with significant optical polymer programs. I could easily add a number of other companies that haven't yet decided to capitalize on their intellectual property, and then I could throw in a few dozen universities with aggressive research programs. Although it's not clear to me that optical polymers will revolutionize component design, I've noticed that the road to obsolescence in many industries has been littered with those who doubted the potential of plastic.

The materials and performance properties of silica optical fiber are essential when deploying WDM systems, as evidenced by an article from Aaron Ayer and his colleagues at Yafo Networks on calculating system outage probability caused by polarization-mode dispersion. In the same vein, the field deployment of Raman amplification can be speeded by properly understanding and measuring the properties of installed fiber and components, as explained by Christian Stauter at Exfo. And exploring the semiconductor electronics side of materials science, we have an article on mixed-signal ICs by Niall Lyne at Analog Devices, who shows how the design of control loops provides the critical flexibility needed in fiber amplifiers doped with that rare-earth element, erbium.

So there's no problem relating any topic in optical communications to materials science. I still don't think it's magic, but at this rate I might end up convincing myself.

W. Conard Holton
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief
[email protected]

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