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Joint Venture With Japanese to Further Optics Applications

January 1996

For 30 years, the computer industry has relied on the silicon chip, which has doubled in power every two years. Yet nothing can be subdivided forever, and many experts believe that the powerhouse of the future will be optics.

NSF is helping to promote advances in optoelectronic technology and its application to computing through an international venture called the Joint Optoelectronics Project (JOP). NSF and the U.S. Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) have agreed to contribute $1.2 million to the JOP. With this funding, JOP will encourage collaboration between research communities in the U.S. and Japan with the objective of bringing state-of-the-art optoelectronic devices to market.

Deborah Crawford, Program Director in NSF's Division of Electrical and Communication Systems, is a technical representative on the JOP board. According to Crawford, the JOP provides a model for cooperative research between the United States and Japan, both of which are highly competitive in this field. It gives the two countries the opportunity to work together to explore new applications for the technology at a reasonable cost to users. "Optoelectronics has the potential to have a significant impact," she says, "and we haven't yet exploited all of that potential."

The JOP began in January 1995 as a way to hasten the commercial adoption of newly developed optical and optoelectronic devices by systems researchers in both countries. The project brings researchers together for major international conferences and exhibits, and it gives both users and suppliers access to up-to-date data, via the Internet.

The United States and Japan both have agents, called brokers, which act as liaisons between the two countries' research communities. The Optoelectronics Industry Technology Development Association is the broker for Japan. For the United States, the broker is the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association, in partnership with George Mason University, the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation, and the Information Sciences Institute of the University of Southern California.

The broker's main responsibility is to connect the suppliers of optoelectronic devices, such as lasers, with users who will develop new applications for these devices by incorporating them into systems. Ravi Athale, co-principal investigator at George Mason University, explains that in the past, it has been difficult for suppliers and users to work together efficiently to develop state-of-the-art optoelectronic devices because the device developers would throw an idea up for consideration, and the system developers would simply use it or discard it.

"The two groups got into a vicious cycle, a mutual waiting game," he says. "The philosophy behind the JOP is to break the cycle and bring the two communities together."

Prepared by Cary Lee Hanes, a technician in NSF's Division of Contracts, Policy, and Oversight.

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