Polymeric components for optical communications
Interview 27 January 2003
Well, I started working in research 23 years ago, at what is now called KPN Research. It is a bit difficult to tell the history of more than 20 years of work in 5 minutes, but I will try. I have been working on glass fibre and integrated optical circuits. When I started my research, the first glass fibre cable in the Netherlands was put in the ground. We started a project together with Akzo Nobel.
What has your research been about?
Well, I started working in research 23 years ago, at what is now called KPN Research. It is a bit difficult to tell the history of more than 20 years of work in 5 minutes, but I will try. I have been working on glass fibre and integrated optical circuits. When I started my research, the first glass fibre cable in the Netherlands was put in the ground. We started a project together with Akzo Nobel. We wanted to build planar optical waveguide switches and modulators with polymers for applications in glass fibre systems. In this project also collaborated an English and French partner and the Belgian university of Ghent. We were very successful and the first ones to build an electro-optical modulator. Later on Akzo Nobel wanted to commercialize the product and built a production cleanroom in Arnhem. With two colleagues I started to work there. But in the end it turned out that the materials were not good enough. The polymers degraded under the influence of the light, and we decided to "switch" to thermo-optical switches that can be made from more stable polymers. These switches have been sold all over the world under the trade name Beambox. In 1999 the activity was sold to JDS Uniphase and I joined the company as research manager focusing on polymeric optical components. Due to the crisis in the telecom industry the Arnhem facility was closed in 2001 and I joined the Lightwave Devices Group at the University of Twente.
And how did you end up doing your PhD here at MESA+?
My dissertation will be a selection of a lot of papers that I published during my work as a researcher for these companies. In a company it is not very easy to publish articles or to do a PhD. They are not really interested in it. It would only serve for promotion purposes. Furthermore companies frequently want to keep this kind of information secret. Publication is possible only after approval by the patent office and sometimes not at all, just to keep other people from getting any ideas in the same direction. I have always had very good contacts with different universities, especially with the UT. I know Alfred Driessen from the time that I studied myself. When they closed JDS in Arnhem, he asked to come here. Now I have the opportunity to do a PhD and financially it is good thing for the research group.
Do you note a lot of differences between working at the university and in a company?
I can only agree that the differences that everybody notes are very true. In the university you have a lot of freedom to decide what to investigate but it is difficult to raise the funds for it. In a company, however, this is much easier when there is a commercial attractive perspective. If you want to finance some kind of research project at a university, it can take over a year before you can be sure whether you will receive the money or not.
Do you plan on staying with MESA+ after you have been presented?
I am not 100% sure yet. A couple of months ago I received a letter that my temporary contract will end. I have been assured that they would prolong it, but I have not heard anything about it yet. As a born researcher I am very content here and so I would like to stay.