Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bell Labs

Image caption | Bell Labs' Holmdel, New Jersey-based facility was home to basic physics research. Designed by architect Eero Saarinen and built in 1962, the landmark building once housed 6,000 employees. It now stands empty and neglected. Alcatel-Lucent has sold the building to a developer who plans to transform the complex into a mixed-use residential, office and retail space. | Once Mighty Bell Labs Leaves Behind Transistor, Laser, 6 Nobels
By Priya Ganapati

See related story: Bell Labs Kills Fundamental Physics Research


Bell Labs' decision to abandon basic physics research marks the end of a brilliant chapter for the iconic institution. Many of the Labs' most famous discoveries, such as the transistor and the laser, originated in fundamental physics and have gone on to transform computing and technology.

They also brought Bell Labs international glory, including six Nobel Prizes in Physics, starting in 1937 when researcher Clinton Davisson shared the Nobel for demonstrating the wave nature of matter.

The lab will now focus on areas such as networking, high-speed electronics, wireless, nanotechnology and software -- fields that are likely to offer a more immediate payback for parent company Alcatel-Lucent. (...)


Related: blog | Pauline RigbyThe rise and fall of Bell Labs

This August marks the anniversary of a key milestone in optics and telecommunications. It has been 50 years since the publication in Physical Review of the scientific paper that described the concept and design of one of the greatest modern inventions — the laser.

The ideas in "Infrared and optical masers" by Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes of Bell Telephone Labs, as it was then known, underpin the core technology in all of today's fibre-optic networks, although it wasn't until glass fibres with very low loss appeared that laser-based communication became a valid alternative to copper wires.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the laser, Lucent Technologies, the parent company of Bell Labs, issued a press release and threw a party in honour of scientists who had made significant contributions to the development of the laser. This time around, not only did the event pass without comment, but it turns out that Alcatel-Lucent is pulling out of basic physics and semiconductor research altogether.

Nature reported the news initially, which was picked up by Wired in this stunning but rather sad photo story. Read it and weep, as Bell Labs becomes just another corporate R&D division, with a view confined to research that is aligned with product development.

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