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Dr. Marc Christensen, Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering

Dr. Marc Christensen, Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering

It was precisely 50 years ago that Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit that's the brain of today's high-speed computers, points out Marc Christensen, chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering.

Christensen, who earned his Bachelor's in electrical engineering and physics from Cornell University in 1993 and his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from George Mason University in 2001, works in photonics, which he says will similarly vault technology to a new level.

"In photonics, we're about where Jack Kilby was 50 years ago with electronics," says Christensen. "We're just now learning to crawl and walk with this."

A photonic system uses light that is trapped in a semi-conductor chip to process and manipulate information. Information can be processed with photonics 1,000 times faster than with a Pentium computer.

Christensen, who worked for a defense contractor while he was in college, and a team of 20 researchers (five faculty members and their students) are collaborating with aerospace companies Raytheon and Northrop Grummon, and Photodigm, a Richardson-based laser company, on several projects that have military applications.

One defense project involves secure channels on radio transmitters. Military communications systems hide from enemy interception by hopping from frequency to frequency. New systems will be able to hop frequencies at speeds of a billionth of a second.

Another project is high-performance cameras to mount on unmanned planes. Generally speaking, the larger the lens, the higher the resolution, but lens size is limited on stealth planes. As an alternative, Christensen and his team are working on a camera that takes hundreds of images and computationally combines the information to create a super-high-resolution image.

"The field of photonics is just coming into its own," Christensen observes. "Where will we be in 10 years or in five decades?"

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