EDFA Inventors Picked as Millennium Prize Finalists

Optical networking researchers are finalists in the Millennium Technology Prize competition

April 8, 2008

2 Min Read
EDFA Inventors Picked as Millennium Prize Finalists

Optical networking researchers Dr. Randy Giles, Professor Emmanuel Desurvire, and Professor David Payne have been named as finalists for the Millennium Technology Prize for their work in developing Erbium Doped-Fiber Amplifiers (EDFAs). (See Optical Researchers Recognized.)

In optical networks, wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) allows carriers to use more of a fiber's capacity by allowing for the transmission of multiple signals at the same time. But even after the discovery of WDM, Giles says, there were "no viable amplifiers to boost the signal."

Payne's discovery of erbium's ability to amplify light signals in optical fibers led to the invention of the EDFA as a way to boost optical signals without converting them to electronic signals first. Ultimately, Giles says, the innovation "gave us bandwidth at an affordable cost."

The EDFA "was the huge enabler that launched the WDM market," says Heavy Reading analyst Sterling Perrin. "It was a launching pad for all the other innovations in the market, and it has impacted the entire telecom industry."

One immediate impact of EDFAs was in submarine networking, where signals travel thousands of miles under the world's oceans. In the mid-to-late '90s, several submarine projects worldwide shifted from optoelectronic amplifiers to EDFAs, and now it is the technology of choice on such routes.

Giles and Desurvire were employed at Bell Labs (now Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)) at the time of the discovery. Giles is now the director of Optical Subsystems and Advanced Photonics there, while Desurvire is the director of the Physics Research Group at Thales Research & Technology. Payne is now the director of the Optoelectronics Research Center at the University of Southampton.

Giles says the discovery was the result of "scientific cooperation, exchange, and freedom of knowledge. It came from being aware of each others' work." And yes, this kind of collaboration was possible before Facebook.

The Millennium Technology Prize was founded in 2004 and, in spite of its name, is awarded every two years for "technological research and innovation that has a positive impact on the quality of life." Previous winners included Tim Berners-Lee in 2004 for his work on the the World Wide Web and Shuji Nakamura in 2006 for the discovery of new sources of light. [Ed. note: Oh, inside the refrigerator?]

This time around, four innovations have been chosen as finalists for the award. The winner will be announced at a ceremony on June 11 in Finland, the country that pioneered "wife-carrying" as a sport.

— Ryan Lawler, Reporter, Light Reading

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