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Center on Optical Wireless Applications (COWA)

The Pennsylvania State University

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The Photonics for Communication, Sensing, and Illumination (PCSI) Center aims to contribute to the nation’s research infrastructure by developing and nurturing long-term collaborations between industry, academia, and government.

Partnering with PCSI means access to the resources, equipment, and expertise to further research and development activities that matter to your organization, leading to accelerated tech transfer from the lab to industry in a cost-effective manner.

Center Mission and Rationale

This Industry/University Cooperative Research Center will provide leadership to develop a new generation of environment-friendly, extremely wideband optical wireless technology applications, employing solid-state devices for communications, networking, imaging and remote sensing applications.     

The primary goals of this center are to initiate formal partnership with various industry partners and national laboratories that have an interest in optical wireless applications designs. The envisioned Center has the potential to improve the profitability of industry and technical leadership of government laboratories by developing new optical wireless devices that will improve the named applications and reduce energy consumption and pollution.            

Some key member benefits are:

- Research agenda influenced by members

- Pre-competitive research results / technology transfer

- Semi-Annual members meetings / networking

- Quality access to faculty, students and facilities

- Professional development / outreach

- Short courses

- Conferences

- Other educational opportunities

- Ongoing engagement and communications with Center


The Center mission is to attract a vertically integrated set of companies from device manufacturers to systems and networks integrators.

Two branches of optical wireless have emerged contemporaneously. In one branch, semiconductor Light Emitting Diode (LED) is considered to be the future primary lighting source for buildings, automobiles and aircrafts. LED provides higher energy efficiency compared to incandescent and fluorescent light sources and it will play a major role in the global reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, as a consequence of the significant energy savings. Lasers are also under investigation for similar applications. These core devices have the potential to revolutionize how we use light, including not only for illumination, but also for communications, sensing, navigation, and imaging. The second branch uses coded optical signals within two coherent optical side bands centered at different wavelengths. The two sidebands, at least one of which carries a message, is transported over long distances to a broadcast station, at which point, heterodyne interference of light within the two bands produces an electromagnetic wave at microwave or millimeter wave frequencies that is modulated by the lower frequency optically coded message. The electromagnetic wave carrying the coded message is then broadcast by an antenna. A wireless receiver can reply wirelessly over a return path via an electrically generated wave carrying an electrically generated coded message. Wired optical networks and various wireless networks are thus merged. Each of the optical wireless networks briefly described above has its unique applications, message coding, security features and technology for sending and receiving messages.

As a major goal, the center undeniably sets the directions for researching and developing the transformative potentials of mm-wave, infra-red, visible, and ultra-violet light, a new era of LEDs, lasers, and other light sources, which will not only provide energy efficient lighting, but also offer a means for wireless broadband connectivity, human-vision-friendly imaging, and reliable distributed sensing. This is done through offering innovative designs, functionality and performance.

Research program

Optical Wireless Using Optical Carriers

Research Thrusts

PCSI’s approach to research centers on inter-connected, solid foundation for user-inspired fundamental research in advanced photonic materials, devices, systems, and packaging (including laser machining, coating technologies, etc.) augmented by:

  • Testing in real world environments
  • Laboratory calibration and validation
  • Fundamental theory development

PCSI assesses projects into three main areas:

  • Free Space Optical Communication (COMM)
    • LiFi (embedded within lighting)
    • Visible Light Communication for Vehicles
      • Automobile
      • Air and Sea
      • Satellite
    • Chip and board-level optical links
  • Specialized/Photonic and Plastic Optical Fiber applications (FIBER)
    • Semiconductor Optical Fibers and Applications
    • Plastic Optical Fiber System
      • For large data centers, servers, and supercomputing
      • Plane/ship/vehicle data networks
    • Lighting applications
  • Remote Sensing and Optical Interrogation (SENSE):
    • Optical positioning
    • Embedded sensing
      • Within vehicle and lighting systems
      • Fiber-based Sensing (e.g. medical analytics)
      • Spectrometry
      • Laser ranging, Lidar, etc.
For more information about PCSI or to become a member, contact us at

Optical Wireless using RF Carriers

The second branch of the mission of the I/UCRC – PCSI is to develop new, interdisciplinary science and technologies to meet the projected needs for an increasing wireless communication bandwidth over distances that can be as short as one centimeter and as long as hundreds of kilometers in mobile as well as fixed conditions. Multi-band radio frequency (RF) services will be generated and carried optically over legacy optical fibers to a destination where these will be converted to electromagnetic waves and broadcast with upstream base band services. Results of the research will be disseminated among industrial members to foster the development of competitive, and widespread high bandwidth and secure communication infrastructure for advanced, high performance systems as well as individual mobile, access to that communication. The planned research projects summarized below aim to offer practical and cost-effective solutions to short range or metropolitan area network optical and RF wireless communication with baseband access to long haul networks, inclusive of sensor networks. In a separate research project, a different embodiment of optical wireless data transport can be adapted to constitute a wireless, inter-board data bus between, for example, DRAM memory and a chip multiprocessor (CMP) within a server box. On the Network side, the research will focus on three specific areas.

1) Bi-directional multi-gigabit and multi-band wireless communication carried over existing optical fiber infrastructure.

2) Cloud computing and data visualization.

3) Sensor communication networks utilizing wireless millimeter carrier waves in combination with the optical fiber backbone, or local fiber network. Millimeter waves in the 60 GHz range are particularly well suited for high bit rate data transport between chips, for example, between main memory and processor in a server. The convergence of three technologies, to wit, the inexpensive and mass produced silicon-based transceiver integrated circuit (IC), the 5 mm to 3 mm carrier wavelength which makes for small radiating antennas, and the insertion of an optical local oscillator which greatly simplifies the millimeter wave IC. With sufficient carrier frequency bandwidth, it is anticipated that an unprecedented data rate of 40 Gb/s/channel is attainable with 16 QAM phase and amplitude modulation. Therefore,

4) one project aims to exploit this convergence of technology and demonstrate how to achieve 40 and 100 Gb/s/channel transmission over RF channels in a form factor consistent with a packaged processor die and a power dissipation comparable to that of a legacy copper bus. Finally, being mindful of the need for application specific RF integrated circuits, special design considerations will be given to;

5) the design of millimeter wave radio transceivers of digital data for specific applications that can be fabricated by the silicon complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) process.

Special Activities

Under the auspices of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Pennsylvania State University (PSU) is participating in an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center on Photonics for Communication, Sensing, and Illumination (PCSI). The PCSI Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) members are industrial leaders who meet in bi-annual meetings with PCSI faculty and student members to evaluate the potentials of the interdisciplinary research Center activities, in providing leadership to develop new generation of environment-friendly, extremely wideband optical wireless technology applications, employing solid-state devices for communications, networking, imaging, positioning and remote sensing. The research and development effort in North America on optical wireless and its applications are not commensurate with the potentially broad societal improvements. This is an emerging important area, with a great potential and many industries will benefit from the research.

The Center is based on the integration of interdisciplinary expertise at PSU with devices and systems-based engineering design and networking concepts. The participants are leaders in this field.

The primary goals of this center are to initiate formal partnerships with various industry partners and research laboratories that have an interest in optical wireless applications designs, and to discuss fundamental issues and topics for research. The Center has the potential to improve the profitability of industry and technical leadership of research Labs by developing new optical wireless devices that will improve the named applications and reduce energy consumption and pollution. Some key member benefits are:

  -  Research agenda influenced by members

  -  Pre-competitive research results / technology transfer

  -  Semi-Annual members meetings / networking

  -  Quality access to faculty, students and facilities

  -  Professional development / outreach

  • Short courses
  • Conferences
  • Other educational opportunities
  • Ongoing engagement and communications with Center


Among the key objectives are:

-          Promoting teaching, training and learning.

-          Dissemination of results.

-          Plan to integrate the research outcomes into education.

-          Broadening participation of underrepresented groups.

The Center administration will work with its industry members and advisory board members to develop and provide excellent opportunities beyond the classroom through internship and other experiences within a workplace setting.

The resources available at Penn State include the Office of Graduate Educational Equity Programs (OGEEP) and multicultural directors in each of the colleges. OGEEP is dedicated to recruiting a diverse population of graduate students and developing programs aimed at retaining these students through graduation. Many of OGEEP’s recruitment efforts are targeted toward underrepresented minority (URM) students in the STEM and Social Science fields, as Penn State is committed to increasing the percentage of URMs entering these fields. Activities in this area build on current and proposed initiatives including internally coordinated programs, internships, research opportunities and recruiting trips. OGEEP works closely with the Multicultural Directors across the University to recruit and retain a diverse student population. Penn State maintains strong relationships with HBCUs such as Florida A&M, Cheney, Xavier, and Alcorn State and will utilize these relationships to recruit URMs for this proposed program in particular.

OGEEP also coordinates the Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) and the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program, both of which are utilized to recruit URMs into various fields and provide opportunities for students to undertake research with faculty members within the participating colleges in this proposal prior to entering graduate school. Participating faculty will be recruited as mentors for both SROP and McNair in an effort to strengthen the connections between undergraduate URMs across the country interested in the STEM and Social Science fields and faculty members within these disciplines at Penn State.

OGEEP is also responsible for the retention of URMs once they enter Penn State graduate programs. The office offers students a number of professional development and networking activities designed to meet faculty and graduate students from other disciplines, enhance their academic experience, and guide them through their respective graduate programs. Programming sponsored by the office includes but is not limited to an annual professional development and retention conference, workshops on dissertation and grant writing, academic integrity, working with advisors, networking, career options, and tackling the job market. OGEEP also consults with faculty to improve their mentoring and advising of students and within this OWA, OGEEP will work with the Center faculty to coordinate programs for all students and faculty participating within the Center.

The synergy at PSU and partner universities will make the broader impacts even more significant. In addition to the COWA’s focus on training and enhancing a more competitive global workforce, its team members are also committed to diversifying this workforce and broadening participation of under-represented groups. Programs in place at the participating universities emphasize opportunities that bring science, engineering, and technology to underserved populations. These programs will be integrated into the envisioned Center, which will enable programs and events such as:

  • An Industry Day at each Center site inviting high school students and undergraduates to meet industry members and view a poster session highlighting research activities;
  • Training sessions for K-12 teachers from underrepresented urban and rural school districts to learn how to teach modules on optical wireless applications;
  • Collaborate with investigators from HBCUs and MSIs and invite them for extended visits to the Center universities for continued collaborations, use of facilities, and participating in research labs and groups;
  • Encourage industry members to offer summer internships with an emphasis on underrepresented students involved in the Center.
  • The envisioned Center will collaborate with the strongest programs and offices at the participating universities to provided opportunities to diverse students and diverse companies in an effort to broaden participation and develop a strong global enterprise with a competitive workforce relevant to optical wireless technology and applications.


Facilities and Laboratory

Facilities, Equipment and other Resources at The PennsylvaniaStateUniversity

The partner universities have laboratory facilities with many optical and electrical equipment and components to perform the proposed research. The existing facilities directly applicable to the center research work include optical test equipment (beam profiler, imaging spectrometer, power meter, energy meter), RF test equipment (spectrum analyzer, digital oscilloscope, network analyzer, vector analyzers, BER tester), waveform generator, Low Noise Amplifiers (LNAs), wideband amplifier, digital pulse delay generator, LEDs and laser diodes at various wavelengths, solid state lasers, short pulse lasers and pump lasers), UV lamps, optical detectors, photo-multiplying-tubes, APDs, optical filters at various wavelengths, optical lenses, mechanical modules (3D rotational stages, servo motors), optical tables, FPGA and DSP kits and various simulation tools.

The facilities below are available to all PSU faculty members:

ARL Optical Lab (ASB Basement)

A fully equipped electro-optics lab in ARL’s Applied Science Building;  nearby (limited) access to large water tank, complete with optical ports.

Meteorology Lab (WalkerBuilding Penthouse)

An  optical test facility of the Meteorology department (with roof/sky access)


The Department of Meteorology Rock Springs field site is located approximately 7 kilometers west of State College.

Jenny Jump Observatory (northern NJ)

Penn State’s 1.2-meter diameter, fully-steerable Itek optical telescope will soon be installed at Jenny Jump, under operations by NJIT.

CICTR Laboratories

 The Center for Information and Communications Technology Research (CICTR) at the Pennsylvania State University, Department of Electrical Engineering started its operations in 1997. The goal of CICTR is to team with government and industrial partners to generate solutions to current and future technical challenges in the transmission, storage, and transformation, switching and networking of digital information. These solutions most likely involve the amalgamation of commercial off-the-shelf technology, advanced prototype technology, and basic information & communications technology research. CICTR activities include basic and applied research, feasibility studies, software development, hardware prototype development, and education and training. The mission of CICTR is to enhance research and education through government / university / industry partnerships in focused and shared pre-competitive research programs. The CICTR web at: summarizes all our research efforts.

At CICTR, we have computing facilities equipped with modern scientific software packages for all our computer simulation needs. In addition, there is a hardware development laboratory at CICTR. The EE Department itself has Machine and Electronics shops as well as clean room facility. Penn-State University has its own nano-fabrications facility and a high-performance computing facility. Additionally, several electro-optics laboratories operate within PSU, containing continuous-wave lasers; pico-second lasers and femto-second lasers, detectors, measurement equipment and accessories used for exploring fundamental physical concepts and potential device applications of novel nonlinear optical processes, using such materials as crystals, liquid crystals, large molecules, and semiconductors various linear and nonlinear optical properties. All the researchers of this project have complete access to the facilities, stated above.

We will interact with an ongoing experimental program in the optics laboratories of the EE Department. These laboratories are equipped with several large optical tables, continuous-wave and ultra-short pulsed laser systems, and related electronic instrumentation. Of particular relevance to this project are a large frame argon-ion laser, helium-neon lasers, and a titanium:sapphire (Ti:S) modelocked laser for ultra-short pulse generation with a 6 Watts single-frequency pump (Verdi-6 manufactured by Coherent Technologies) producing light. Commercial ultra-short Ti:S laser systems are also available within the nano-fabrication facilities of Penn-State.  Microlithography facilities necessary for fabricating encoding and decoding masks also exist within Penn-State nano-fabrication facilities. The equipment available includes an electron beam writer, optical mask aligners, evaporators and sputtering systems, a reactive ion etcher, surface profilometers, and other facilities. Computing : Penn-State's Engineering Computer Network will be available to support this work.

 Optics Laboratories

Lasers:  The lab is equipped with a variety of laser sources from UV to Far IR, from CW to femtosecond., An amplified femtosecond laser system from Quantronix., Optical Parameter Amplifier from 1.1 micron to 11 micron, Liquid helium cooled borometer for highly sensitive laser beam measurement, Broadband IR spectrometer.

Magneto-optic material growths and evaluations for high speed switching fabrication.

Liquid phase epitaxy growing systems to grow ferrite-garnet films, Computer controlled furnace to grow FeBO3, Measurement equipment to measure the magneto-optic properties, including VSM to measure the hysteresis loop, fast speed driver and corresponding optical system to measure the Faraday rotation angle as a function of applied magnetic field, the switching speed, and the polarization microscope to measure the domain structure.

Other optical and electronic equipments:

Five optical tables, a 500 mW UV laser, a Q-switched Nd-YAG laser, a New Focus Tunable laser, a H-P tunable laser, a New Focus high coherence infrared laser, a HP optical Spectrum Analyzer, a Fiber optic fusion splicer, three Argon lasers, 5 He-Ne lasers, one infrared YAG laser, one visible YAG laser.  The major electronic equipments include high speed oscilloscope, arbitrary waveform generators, RF signal analyzers, high precision digital multimeters, high speed current amplifier.  Other optical components and devices include a variety of optical lenses, mirrors, polarizers, analyzers, waveplates, photodetectors, holders, high precision translation and rotation stages.  


Photonics Laboratories

Lasers: Two 5W single frequency diode pumped solid state lasers at 532 nm (Coherent Verdi),Two Ti:Sapphire femtosecond lasers (Kapteyn-Murnane Labs), Pulse stretcher andcompressor system (Kapteyn-Murnane Labs), Q switched microchip laser (JDSUniphase), Nanosecond laser with seeder (Continuum Surelite III), nanosecond optical parametric oscillator.

Photonic crystal fiber related resources:

Highly nonlinear photonic crystal fibers from Crystal-Fibre, Femtowhite 800 for supercontinuum generation, Newport 561/562 series Precision fiber optic linear stages, Fiber cleaver, Fiber fusion splicer

Optical Tables: Two 4′ by 10′, one 4′ by 8′, and one 4′ by 6′ research grade optical tables and isolation systems from Newport

Femtosecond related resources:

Various special optics for femtosecond laser applications including dispersion prisms,

beamsplitters, and mirrors; autocorrelator for pulse width measurement; nonlinear optical crystals;

Optics: Various optics including mirrors, lenses, cylindrical lenses, beamsplitters, polarizers,

waveplates, filters, gratings; Many high performance objective lenses;

Optomechanical components:

Motorized translational stages and driver from Newport; piezoelectric actuator and driver; various linear and rotational stages; Spatial filters; Various kinetic mounts; Various bases, posts, and post-holders

Other testing equipments:

One Ando Optical Spectrum Analyzer; Power meters; high speed photodiodes; One

Apogee 14bit cooled CCD camera; Pulnix CCD cameras; A spectrograph (PI/Acton

SpectraPro2500) with a liquid-nitrogen cooled CCD detector (PI/Acton Spec-10); Pockels cell; Lock-in amplifier;


Lighting Laboratories

The 1,100 square foot lighting laboratory is a highly flexible mock-up facility. Modular components such as moveable partition walls, a dedicated lighting panel board, and digital control systems allows for the mock-up of an almost unlimited number of interior spaces that vary in spectrum and luminance distribution. The lab is primarily used to characterize the human perceptual response to optical radiation stimuli, including radiation generated by novel lamps, from prototyping, through bench scale testing, to small scale demonstration. Instruments include: Two research grade illuminance meters with remote heads (Minolta model T-10, with remote adapter units models T-A20 and T-A21), one chroma meter (Minolta model CS-100), two diode array spectrometers with remote heads (Stellarnet model EPP2000C), one power quality clamp meter and various probes (Fluke model 345), one 10.1 megapixel digital SLR camera, lenses, and carbon fiber tripods (Canon model EOS 40D, lenses include Canon EF 15mm F/2.8 and Canon zoom telephoto EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 IS), vision screening, color vision screening, and color discrimination test apparatuses (Keystone model VS-V Standard Vision Screener, Ishihara Test Chart Book for Color Deficiency 38 Plate Book, GretagMacbeth Farnsworth-Munsell 100 Hue Test), diorama Colororimeter (Custom apparatus for creating illumination of variable spectral power distribution (SPD), developed to study the effect of SPD on perceptual responses such as brightness and color perceptions).




The Pennsylvania State University

Dept. of Electrical Engineering

University Park, Pennsylvania, 16802

United States