Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Bartoli: Integrating Optics and ECE

Dr. Filbert Bartoli, the recently-named Chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department at Lehigh, is certainly no stranger to cutting-edge research that brings together thinking from multiple disciplines. Bartoli, who began his new position on October 1, 2005, comes to Lehigh from the National Science Foundation, where he has served since 2000 as program director for electronics, photonics and device technologies within the NSF’s Electrical and Communications Systems Division. Before joining NSF, Bartoli spent 30 years at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, starting as a research physicist in the Optical Sciences Division, and later heading the Sources and Effects Section (1985-1993) and the Advanced Materials Section (1993-2000) of the Lab.

With this CV in mind, it’s clear that Dr. Bartoli has certainly taken on his role at Lehigh during an interesting time. Not only is the campus gearing up for our annual Founder’s Day celebration, but the University’s Center for Optical Technologies (COT) will be part of the festivities by unveiling a major new research facility– the Smith Family Laboratory for Optics Research -- and Bartoli says the timing couldn’t be better.

“The advances of electrical/computer engineering have been directly responsible for at least half of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century,” says Bartoli. “As an area of research and study, it’s infusive: how could society function – manufacture, travel, conduct business – without the steady flow of technological advancement from the ECE field? And to continue in this leadership role, departments like ours must partner with adjacent fields of research to continue to drive advances within and across disciplines.”

Considering the nature of the field and its impact upon some of the core research areas around Lehigh’s science and engineering community, it’s easy to see how Bartoli’s experience makes a perfect backdrop for his new role. “Imagine for a moment what society could accomplish with truly high-speed data transmission, speeds that dwarf the typical connection of today’s LANs or cable modems,” he says. “A surgeon in Maine could supervise and counsel a surgery team operating live in Santa Fe. High quality representations of art could be made available, as could access to rare texts…the list goes on and on, but the point is that our field would transform society once again, creating new notions for business, education, entertainment, and so on. And the key to these advances will be found somewhere near the intersection of ECE and optics.”

As far as the business climate in this area is concerned, Dr. Bartoli sees no reason to feel optics is set to do anything but continue to grow in significance. “Over the last decade, telecommunications in general and the optical-networking sector in particular went through a classic case of ‘irrational exuberance,’” says Bartoli. “There was an overinvestment in the area, and frankly supply just far outpaced demand. However, society has had its first taste of what an ‘information superhighway’ could accomplish -- the demand growth for information access hasn’t slowed, yet the technical challenges to further advancement remain. As researchers, we’re looking to have all the pieces in place for that moment when the supply and demand lines cross.”

How does Dr. Bartoli see the new optics lab figuring into the overall science and engineering community at Lehigh? “The research projects envisioned here, and the researchers pursuing them, truly set Lehigh apart,” says Bartoli. “The COT, especially with the new research center in place, is positioned to drive research involving physics, nanotechnology, bio- and information- technology, and materials, just to name a few.

“Nanophotonics will drive advancement in optically-integrated circuitry, which will in turn drive advancement across the tech industry,” he continues. “Researchers in biophotonics will help make light sources and sensors for biomedical diagnostic and therapeutic devices which will be less invasive and will improve patient recuperation times. Massive structures like bridges, dams, or buildings will be able to use optical technology to monitor issues pertaining to material strength and durability. It is difficult to overstate the myriad ways in which optics will enable advancement in various research areas, and thus shape the future of many facets of society.”

Posted on Tuesday, November 01, 2005

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