SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING NEWS
Beaming with fiber-optic technology found in only a few universities worldwide, The University of Tulsa’s new multimillion-dollar Williams Communications Fiber Optic Networking Laboratory opened Jan. 17 with a dedication ceremony attended by representatives of major telecommunications companies nationwide.
“The city of Tulsa is known worldwide as a telecommunications center, and our new showcase facility will add to that reputation,” said University of Tulsa President Bob Lawless. “This highly advanced laboratory will meet our academic goals as well as the industry’s needs. Our industrial partners will benefit from a quality facility that they themselves have helped to build.”
Companies that donated equipment and services include Williams Communications, Nortel Networks, CIENA Corp., Cisco Systems, WorldCom, Diamond Resources, Transistor Devices Inc., Agilent Technologies Inc., Anixter, Broken Arrow Electric, Industrial Electric Testing and Cutler-Hammer. Lucent Technologies also is participating by loaning its leading edge all-optical switching equipment for testing at the lab.
“Williams Communications is dedicated to supporting education in communities across the country,” said Howard Janzen, president and CEO of Williams Communications, based in Tulsa, Okla. “In our highly competitive market, Williams needs access to graduates with a high level of technical expertise to help us maintain our position as the industry’s leading innovator. This lab will provide us with a pool of well-trained engineers and technicians with hands-on experience in a lab environment.”
“You can count on one hand the center’s like this in the world,” said Steve Alexander, chief technology officer for CIENA Corp, who is considered one of the founders of fiber optic networking. “It’s very unusual at a university level to offer exposure to equipment that has been in the field only a few years.”
The two-room laboratory is housed in Keplinger Hall, home of the TU College of Engineering and Natural Sciences. One room contains the equipment and the other is a classroom for lectures and demonstrations. The laboratory, which can handle two million digital calls, has the capacity to process 100 gigabits of data per second.
Peter LoPresti, associate professor of electrical engineering at TU and director of the laboratory, described it as a showcase facility for teaching, training and research in telecommunications. “Undergraduate and graduate students, professionals and industry trainees will gain hands-on experience with a variety of network configurations and technology,” said LoPresti. “This fiber optic networking facility represents the latest optical communications technology and will serve as a cornerstone for future innovation and continued industry leadership.”
LoPresti and other TU professors have already incorporated the laboratory into the curriculum of two existing courses, and new courses such as “Optical Networking” will open for enrollment in fall 2001 and spring 2002. The lab’s primary emphasis will be on fiber optics and the electronics and hardware needed to run a fiber optic network. “It’s one thing when students draw a system on paper,” said LoPresti, “but now they will be able to see what happens when that design is put into practice. Students will see how a network functions, how it can break down, and they’ll explore solutions to networking problems.”
LoPresti says the curriculum changes will prepare students for careers in telecommunications with laboratory technology as sophisticated as anything currently used in the field — plus some experimental equipment not even available on the market. “We will also be able to conduct research on new network systems and configurations, component performance and interoperability, and telecommunications applications,” said LoPresti, who has already begun testing some new switching technology that could reroute signals to overcome difficulties caused by a large amount of traffic on a network. In addition to student programs, engineering professionals and technicians will be able to attend short courses, continuing education classes and seminars.
Lab equipment includes optical transmitters, receivers, amplifiers, switches, fiber optic cable and regenerators used to revive a weak signal. Also available is diagnostic equipment to observe a network and sophisticated timing systems that use the global positioning system to synchronize operations.
Williams Communications provided the engineers, draftsmen and technicians to design the equipment layout and power distribution system, and to configure and test equipment to ensure operation within specifications. Diamond Resources provided the installation of the power supply and the substructure supporting the equipment and cabling.
Nortel Networks donated its Optical Internet equipment, including two S/DMS TransportNode OC-192 and three OC-48 transmission systems. CIENA donated two additional OC-192 intelligent optical transport systems, some with dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) capabilities. Cisco Systems provided three 15454 signal aggregators to connect the optical network to electrical networks. WorldCom donated optical amplifiers and test equipment. The power plant was contributed by Transistor Devices Inc., and Agilent provided a network test set and an optical spectrum analyzer.