Wayne H. Knox, director of the Advanced Photonics Research Department at Lucent Technologies and an alumnus of the University of Rochester, has been named director of the Institute of Optics, one of the world's leading optics research centers. Knox will bring his two decades of laser research at Bell Laboratories to the institute, opening up new opportunities for fiber optic communication and possibly even medicine.
"We're very excited to have Wayne Knox as a faculty member and as the director of the Institute of Optics," says Thomas J. LeBlanc, professor of computer science and Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the College Faculty. "Dr. Knox is known for both his path-breaking research and his outstanding leadership skills. Given the importance of optical technology, both locally and nationally, and the distinguished history of the Institute of Optics, it is imperative that the University of Rochester remain at the very forefront of this discipline. This appointment assures our continued leadership role in optics and photonics."
The Institute of Optics was founded in 1929 as the nation's first program of higher education in the field of optics. It remains one of the world's centers of optic research, bolstered by the proximity to Corning, Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb and Welch Allyn. The University of Rochester campus is also the home of the world's most powerful ultraviolet laser, Omega, a federally funded laser-fusion laboratory.
"There are a lot of challenges ahead for anyone in the optics industry," says Knox. "We're going to have to understand what it is that makes Rochester unique in the optics world, and use that knowledge to bridge the gaps between optics and fields such as biotechnology." Knox says that the field of optics is changing as more researchers move from university settings to optics start-ups. To keep the brightest minds on campus and working with students, he plans to exploit several opportunities for fundraising that he sees as untapped, using the proceeds to recruit "only the very best people."
With the addition of new world-class faculty, Knox hopes to expand the optics major, giving students more hands-on learning opportunities. "We also need to efficiently organize the available space and begin planning for an expansion sometime in the future," he says. "Basically, we're going to make a lot of noise about optics in Rochester."
Knox received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University, where he started working at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics before its main building was even completed. "The tight loop between my academic studies and my lab experiences strongly reinforced my interest in optics, and I was well-prepared when I got to Bell Labs."
Researchers at the Institute of Optics expect Knox to use his Bell Labs experience to start a vigorous research program that will expand his work on ultrafast lasers. At Lucent Technologies, a communications research company spun off from AT&T in 1996, Knox pioneered the use of lasers that fire in a millionth of a billionth of a second, for fiber optic communication. Previously, ultrafast laser research focused on looking at brief chemical reactions, but Knox designed a new process for transmitting a tremendous amount of data through an optical fiber.
Knox will also capitalize on the University's strengths by tapping researchers from different departments to expand the ultrafast laser field beyond telecommunications. For instance, ultrafast lasers can make excellent cutting tools, so making an advanced kind of "laser scalpel" is one possibility under consideration, which could be developed in conjunction with researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The lasers can also influence certain kinds of chemical reactions, creating new molecules that would be impossible to create otherwise, and apply them to new medicines and materials.
Knox joined Bell Labs in 1984, where he worked his way up from postdoctoral fellow to director of a group of 22 research scientists. Just a year after starting there, Knox made the Guinness Book of World Records with the fastest laser shot ever recorded. He went on to invent ways to make such lasers more practical for industry, and patented a way to pack more information into an optical data stream than had ever been done before. Knox is a fellow of the Optical Society of America and the American Physical Society, as well as a recipient of a National Academy of Science award for his laser work. In 1999, he won the American Association of Physics Teachers' Richtmyer Award for Physics Teaching.
Knox will join his father, Robert S. Knox, professor emeritus of physics and senior scientist at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, at the University. Like his son, Robert Knox also earned his doctorate in optics at the University of Rochester's Institute of Optics.
Knox begins in his new position on April 16. He will be relocating with his wife of 25 years, Victoria, and their five children.