There’s no denying the movement towards creating university level photonics programs is on the rise. Optiwave has created the Optiwave for Educators program in response. The program combines industry standard simulation software tools for student and teacher use, and specific lessons for the classroom. It even uses the same lesson plan outlined in one of the dominant textbooks available today, G. P. Agrawal’s book, Fiber-Optic Communication Systems.

Dr. Warren Koontz, Program Chair of the new Master’s program in Telecommunications Engineering Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) first saw Optiwave software in a copy of G.P. Agrawal’s book. Dr. Koontz remarked, “I got a copy of the book, and the text included a lite version of Optiwave’s OptiSystem software. I liked the interface, and the way it worked.” As a result of a successful evaluation, he recently adopted the Optiwave for Educators program as part of the University’s initiative to empower students with tools currently used in the industry.

The extensive knowledge of the telecommunications field that Dr. Koontz gained during his 32 years at Bell Labs and Lucent is a key advantage in his role as Program Chair. His background also gives him a practical application perspective. Dr. Koontz sees the two primary benefits of having Optiwave software tools are the virtual lab capabilities, and the ability to demonstrate complex concepts through simulation and analysis.

Dr. Koontz believes that giving students the option to use a virtual lab is a much more cost effective alternative to spending upwards of $15,000 on a single piece of test equipment. He explains, “In the case of optical education, the actual communication quality optical hardware and the associated test and measurement equipment is very, very expensive. OptiSystem simulation and analysis capabilities give students something close to a hands-on approach to understanding how optical systems work, even if they don’t have access to the expensive test and measurement equipment”.

“Optiwave software gives me an opportunity to demonstrate concepts, and allows students to experiment with some of the concepts. “ Dr. Koontz explained, “We currently have the software running in our general computing lab. Any student or professor can logon and run the software.”

“The course we are running right now, ‘Fiber Optic Telecommunications Technology’, introduces the students to optical technologies. It covers fibers, laser diodes, LEDs, photodiodes, and optical amplifiers. Students learn about the components and the underlying principles behind them, and they get a handle on how to do some of the analysis. The follow-on course, currently in the planning stage, will be ‘Fiber Optic Telecommunications Systems’. The systems course will spend more time on DWDM, multiplexers, and analysing SONET rings. I know that OptiSystem comes with ‘Example’ files that address all these issues.”

Dr. Koontz provided an example of how the implementation of the simulation software tools benefits the classroom. “Nearly all the classrooms at RIT are equipped with projectors, so I just hook it up to my laptop, and display OptiSystem for the whole class to see. I can talk from the whiteboard, show some slides, or run an OptiSystem simulation. Students can see the layout, and the various plots and curves of the results. The reaction to this setup has been quite positive.”

“OptiSystem simulations have been especially useful when I talk to students about something from a theoretical point of view. The simulations can actually demonstrate what I’ve been talking about. For example, in one case, I was describing how attenuation affects the basic design of an optical link. I explained that, as a result of attenuation, the optical signal gets weaker and weaker as the fiber gets longer and longer. Eventually, the quality of the received signal gets so low that the receiver cannot accurately detect the transmitted data. An eye diagram from an Optiwave analysis illustrates this very clearly. I can show that when the power is high, the result is a nice eye diagram with a large opening. Then, I show how the eye diagram changes as the fiber length increases and the received power decreases. I am also able to introduce bit error rate and the Q-factor because the OptiSystem analysis displays these factors. OptiSystem demonstrates all of this clearly, and in practical terms.”

RIT is but one of many educational institutions investigating cost effective alternatives to equipping their labs with expensive test equipment. The Optiwave for Educators program has proven to be not only a cost effective solution, but also one that can help attract and train strong graduate candidates for industry and research.

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