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Koch wins IEEE’s 2008 Sumner Award

Thomas Koch

Thomas Koch, the Daniel E. ’39 and Patricia Smith Chair and director of Lehigh’s Center for Optical Technologies (COT), has been chosen to receive the 2008 Eric E. Sumner Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Koch, a professor of both electrical and computer engineering and of physics at Lehigh, was cited for “pioneering contributions to optoelectronic technologies and their implementation in optical communications systems.”

The award, sponsored by Alcatel-Lucent, is named for Eric E. Sumner, a past IEEE president and former vice president for operations planning at AT&T Bell Laboratories. Criteria for the award include contributions to research, development and application of communications technology.

IEEE, with more than 365,000 members worldwide, is the world’s leading professional association for the advancement of technology. Koch is an IEEE Fellow, the highest rank attainable in the organization.

The Sumner Award follows on the heels of Koch’s election in 2006 to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), one of the highest honors conferred upon engineers. The NAE advises the federal government on science and engineering policy, and honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice or education, and who have pioneered new fields of technology.

Koch has gained international renown in the past 25 years for a diverse and significant array of achievements related to optical communications technology.

He was the first to explain the inherent and fundamental nature of frequency-chirping phenomena in directly modulated semiconductor lasers, a problem that limits the information-carrying capacity of optical fiber communication systems. His work pointed the way to improved materials and designs used in many of today’s communications lasers.

Koch was also the first researcher to introduce computer-generated eye diagrams and penalty assessment for optical communications based on deterministic physics-based device and transmission modeling.

In the area of semiconductor laser technology, Koch designed Bell Laboratories’ first high-speed Distributed Feedback (DFB) laser in 1985, enabling world-record fiber transmission capacity at the time. Three years later, he and his research team demonstrated the first quantum-well tunable Distributed Bragg Reflector (DBR) lasers, providing tunable emission that is well-suited for Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) communication networks. In 1990 he demonstrated the first expanded-beam semiconductor laser to ease the difficult coupling into optical fibers for cost-sensitive applications.

Koch has also made major contributions to the design, growth and fabrication of photonic integrated circuits (PICs), achieving impressive levels of performance and sophistication for WDM and other applications. PICs incorporating similar design elements are now carrying commercial traffic on today’s communications networks.

Before his appointment as COT director in 2003, Koch held vice president roles at SDL Inc., Lucent Technologies and, most recently, at Agere Systems, where he was vice president for technology platforms.

The COT, which was established in 2001, is a partnership of Lehigh, Penn State University, Northampton and Lehigh Carbon Community Colleges, and the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The center has become one of the leading research institutions in its field, receiving more than $75 million in funding since it was founded, including major support from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the U.S. Department of Defense, Lehigh, industry and private sources, and federal research grants to participating faculty.

Koch holds 35 patents and is active in international conferences, both in management and as a technical contributor. He has authored more than 170 conference presentations and 135 journal publications or book chapters. He is co-editor of the book Optical Fiber Telecommunications III.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Tuesday, September 04, 2007

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