Montana State University

MSU receives Calient optical switch to aid research

September 24, 2003 -- Carol Schmidt

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Bozeman - Montana State University's College of Engineering and the Gilhousen Telecommunications Program have been awarded a $50,000 state-of-the-art optical switch that will help put MSU on the right side of the "digital divide" and enable the university to stay in step with other research universities.

The prototype optical switch, manufactured by Calient Networks, is being provided by a joint National Science Foundation/DARPA program that makes leading edge photonic technologies available to universities to support research and education.

Richard Wolff, who sits in the MSU College of Engineering's Gilhousen Endowed Chair, said Calient's PX Switch will help MSU scientists access applications and images necessary for the high-end collaborative research going on at MSU. He said the switch will be an important tool to the MSU's scientists who are already working collaboratively with colleagues in other parts of the country and the world.

"Montana and Montana State are disadvantaged because of slow or limited communications with information technology available in the world," Wolff said. "We are on the other side of the digital divide."

Wolff explained that the photonic switch that MSU will receive from Calient is similar to a computer case containing several mirrors, or a "box of mirrors." High-speed fiber optic communications lines carrying information on light beams come into the box and then the light beams bounce off a mirror inside the box to a predetermined connection. The switch is state-of-the-art and pre-commercial, he said.

Wolff said if the switch works well at MSU and other networks and research institutions, it could be used as a key element in a larger scale high-speed network that would connect Montana to other research centers around the country and elsewhere in the world.

"There is no other switch like this in Montana," said Wolff, who added that he expects switches of this type to be widely available in five to 10 years.

"We anticipate that the switch will facilitate research and bring MSU into the mainstream of research on the national scale," he said. "It's a leading-edge piece of technology."

Wolff said he and a team of scientists will study how the photonic switch works with MSU's established network in such diverse research areas as neuroscience, solar physics, agriculture and computer science. Students will also study the switch to gain hands-on experience with an optical network.

"It's where the future will be," Wolff said.

Wolff and MSU were chosen, in part, because of the Gilhousen Telecommunications Program founded in 2001 with a $5 million gift by telecommunications pioneer Klein Gilhousen and his wife, Karen, who have a home near Bozeman. An electrical engineer, Gilhousen is Qualcomm's Senior Vice President for Technology and a pioneer in the telecommunications industry.

Contact: Richard Wolff (406) 994-7172