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Engineers
get $9 million from Navy lab

By Lynn Nystrom

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 25 - March 26, 1998

Virginia Tech's Fiber and Electro-Optics Research Center (FEORC) has received a $9.6-million grant from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) for an Optical Sciences Research program.
The five-year research project will focus on optical-fiber materials, opto-electronics and fundamental optical-materials science related in part to micro-electronics, including optical microchips.
Micro-electronics is big business in Virginia with the recent announcements by Motorola, IBM/Toshiba and Motorola/Siemens of their intentions to locate multi-billion-dollar micro-electronic fabrication plants in the state. FEORC's research in micro-electronics has already shown the possibility of "significant improvements" in the manufacturing of these devices, said Rick Claus, the director of the research center.
NRL's grant follows another huge contract to FEORC, a U.S. Department of the Navy $6.5-million award in March of 1994. Today's award builds and expands upon the 1994 contract when FEORC was asked to look at a whole range of fiber-optic applications as they relate to military and commercial uses. This research, some of which remains classified, consisted of three primary components: the production of specialized fibers from improved glass and other materials; the use of optical fibers as sensors; and non-linear optical devices.
The new thrust areas, in addition to the micro-electronics-related research, will include high-speed communication waveguide devices and some revolutionary work in the new field of nano-structured materials. These materials, in the form of an alloy such as a metal or a ceramic, are "made of the same atoms as their more common forms, but the atoms are arranged in nanometer-size clusters which become the building blocks of new materials," said Claus, who holds a joint position in the electrical and computer engineering and the materials-science engineering departments at Virginia Tech.
Claus and his colleagues, Yanjiing Liu, You-Xiong Wang, and Wei Zhou, have already demonstrated that these new nano-materials have "remarkable electronic, optical, mechanical and other properties in comparison to larger bulk materials of the same molecular composition."
Advantages of using nano-particles for materials fabrication include the ability to process the materials at low temperatures. Particularly important, Liu and Claus said, is "the possibility of forming ultra-hard ceramic-like coatings on relatively soft materials at room temperature." FEORC journal publications concerning this novel and useful effect are submitted for publication now.
FEORC, Virginia's first Center for Innovative Technology's (CIT) Technology Development Center, is the home to the country's largest educational fiber-optics group. Members of FEORC have submitted more than 100 patent disclosures and published more than 1,000 papers in lightwave technology and applications. FEORC is also currently supported by more than 30 research sponsors.