Ryan Chartrand

Members of the Olympus company headquarters in Tokyo were on campus Tuesday through today to review the work of a graduate student whose research may have large implications in the field of telecommunications.

Biomedical and materials engineering student Brent Huigens is head of an Olympus-founded research and development team working on media that will transform the Internet from an electronic base to an all optical network through micro-electric-mechanical-systems (MEMS).

Although Olympus is most well-known for its dominance in the camera industry, the company actually makes a large amount of its profits in the biomedical arena.

The mirco mirrors Huigens and his team are working with can detect and route wavelengths of light, similar to regular household Internet routers; however, without electricity, the information has the potential to move at the speed of light.

Specifically, Huigens was responsible for building a test stand in which they could test the MEMS technology’s capabilities. He and his team successfully built phase one of their project and were just asked to build another to be completed by the end of February.

“The corporate members are coming out to see us because we here at Cal Poly have surpassed the quality of research that this company is able to have done at Olympus Microsystems (a small startup company of Olympus Corporate),” Huigens said.

Huigens began his relationship with the company during an internship last summer at Olympus Microsystems in Atlanta. At the end of the summer, Huigens was interested in continuing his work with the company and proposed the idea of a long-term partnership; Olympus accepted, making Huigens head of a four-person research and development team.

This week’s meetings will act as a checkup and focus on modeling the Olympus product and characterizing the test stand. The mirco mirrors for the test stands come from Japan and the corporate members are interested in what the mirrors are capable of doing and what their implications are for the future of technology.

“The most exciting aspect of all of this is that it is a student-run partnership. It provides students the experience of real-world business transactions; I am no one special, I was just given a great opportunity,” Huigens said.

Huigens and his crew of other students working on their master’s degrees use the Brown Engineering building as their research facility. The recent addition to campus contains a clean room that provides the necessary environment to build the test stands.

In the clean room there are only 1,000 particles in the air per square foot, compared to 500,000 particles in a normal air space. The clean room is important because any microscopic particle that appears on the micro mirrors would be big enough to hinder its ability to process information. Members of the research team must wear protective gear in the room at all times while working on their projects.

“What a great opportunity for our students to get firsthand experience with the challenges of working with an international organization and engineers from around the world. This partnership could grow into opportunities for Cal Poly students to participate in a summer internship in Tokyo and potential employment with Olympus Microsystems Inc. here in the U.S.,” said materials engineering professor and adviser Richard Savage.

Optical telecommunication networking is no longer something of the future, and MEMS will change the speed of the Internet and therefore transform its capabilities, Huigens said.

“Long downloads like books and movies will be limited only to the speed of your processor; this type of technology is used now but we haven’t seen anywhere near the extent of what it could be,” Huigens said.

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