Contributed by C. David Chaffee, Chaffee Fiber Optics
One thing that became very clear when I interviewed Randy Giles, this year's Tyndall award winner, was that he has been involved in a wide array of the seminal breakthroughs that have driven fiber optics in the past 25 years. In the time that Giles career has spanned Northern Telecom and mainly Bell Labs he has been involved with the development of optical amplification, wavelength division mulitiplexing, optical add/drop multiplexers and optical switching--all in a substantive manner.
As part of my interview with him this morning as part of the Fiber Story history series, Randy describes a highly involved career that essentially defined the milestones of optical transport achievement and advancement. Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, the modest Giles got his Ph.D in laser physics and initially worked with the legendary Jan Conradi at Bell Northern Research. His initial work was in gigabit optical transmission, which was very exciting at a time when fiber optic systems topped out at 405 Mbps or 560 Mbps.
"I was an neophyte, didn't understand anything about fiber optics," he recalls. "But I did have a background in electronics. Conradi told me to do some homework in fiber optics. Literally a few months later I started working on gigabit fiber optics."
He started working at Bell Labs in 1986, accepting a position from Tingye Li. His almost magical association with optical transport pioneers, which rivaled Forrest Gump-type fortune, was continuing. "I wasn't thinking clearly after offered the job and didn't accept immediately. However I called back 24 hours later and asked Tingye if the job was still available. It was."
Opitcal amplifiers were part of Giles' Ph.D work and his initial research involved semiconductor optical amplifiers. This led to his involvement with optical amplifiers and wavelength division multiplexing, which avoided the crosstalk and other issues of SOAs.Randy is also proud of his efforts in the design modeling of the optical amplifiers themselves.
The competition to develop optical amplifiers in WDM systems was "very intense" in the 1990 timeframe, Randy notes. Yet the competition at least with Southampton University involving David Payne in the U.K. was friendly to an extent. "There was a time when we were looking to the gain characteristics of the optical amplifiers and there seemed to be a discrepancy between their gain feed and our gain feed. We swapped fibers, we exchanged ideas and we found that their fiber composition was different from ours and that explained the shift of the gain and it all sort of resolved itself. So it was a benign competition."
Giles was also involved with some of the first Bragg grating optical add drop multiplexers. "We had the optical amplifiers, the EDFAs. We had to pump them efficiently. "The challenge was to stabilize the 980 pumps. So we had to work with colleagues to provide a narrow feedback into the laser to stabilize itself. So we had gratings and WDM signals so the next thing was to take the gratings and begin to make the next add drop multiplexers. Today of course arrayed waveguides have superceded the gratings but those gratings were very effective in making the first add drop multiplexers."
It was a bit of a departure to start working on MEMS (micro-electrical mechanical systems) from optical add drop multiplexers, Giles relates. He began working with Dave Bishop and others in that area. "I began working with very simple MEMS switches. I realized we could start putting these together. We started making 4x4 and working with Bill Brinkman began working on the lambda router, which went from 256 by 256 to 1296 by 1296."
"I was in the thick of all of these efforts," says Giles, who most recently has been named to head Alcatel-Lucent Korea. It has been a storied career that still has a few twists and turns to go.
2010-03 March, Fiber optics, OFC/NFOEC