78, I can look back on 56 years as an EE with nostalgia. To summarize,
I retired from AT&T Bell Labs in 1996 after 43 years devoted to
lightwave communications. I have had the opportunity to continue my
interest in technology as an IEEE Congressional Fellow, OSA Senior Science
Advisor, and legal expert witness. Since 2004, I have been Adjunct Professor
in the EECS department at the University of California Berkeley. Altogether,
it has been a very satisfying career; a time that has passed in the
blink of the eye. At the kind invitation of editor Krishnan Parameswaran,
I’d like to touch on a few highlights.
To start at the beginning, my grandparents came to the United States
from Eastern Europe; I imagine from shtetls, or Jewish villages, similar
to the one portrayed in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Both my parents,
who were born in New Jersey, had to quit school at an early age to help
support their respective families. Nevertheless, my brother and I went
to the public schools in Passaic, NJ with the clear understanding we
were expected to go on to college. Since I enjoyed math and science,
I decided to become an engineer, although I didn’t have a good
idea of what an engineer actually did. Civil was tempting because I
could picture myself outdoors slogging through mud with a slide rule
on my hip, but finally I chose electronics, thinking I might become
a sales engineer. It turned out to be a good choice.
When I graduated from Union College in 1952, there was a strong demand
for EEs, particularly in California where the aircraft industry was
gearing up to support the Korean War. Only a few years earlier, EE graduates
couldn’t find a job. I had offers from Bell Labs in NJ and Hughes
Aircraft in Los Angeles; I chose the latter because California seemed
more adventurous. The Hughes job offered a higher salary and a Master’s
degree from UCLA. Six months after arriving in LA, I returned east briefly
to marry Florence Fischer, who I had met a few years earlier at Skidmore
College. I enjoyed the Hughes Research Lab. It had a research atmosphere
patterned after Bell Labs and was populated by PhDs. I worked on slot
array scanning antennas for airborne radars. I wanted to get my PhD
someday. In 1954, we decided to return to NJ with our baby daughter,
and to Bell Labs.
My job at Bell was in the military research lab in Whippany, NJ, where
I continued working on microwave aircraft antennas. But Bell also had
a terrific Communication Development Training (CDT) Program for the
new hires without PhDs. We spent 3 days per week taking courses from
Bell Labs research greats as well as professors from NYU. We also had
an opportunity to rotate through three Bell Labs departments to learn
what they were doing. I selected a transistor circuit development department
and a microwave tube development department located in Murray Hill,
NJ, and a microwave telecommunications systems research department located
in a small wooden building in rural Holmdel, NJ. All were rewarding
experiences but I liked the Crawford Hill lab in Holmdel best because
of the lovely surroundings, small size, and the connection with microwave
devices, which I found quite fascinating.
In 1956, another great opportunity came my way. The Bell Labs CDT Program
was to last three years and required lots of homework. The students
complained they were working as hard as if they were in grad school
but were not earning a degree. The Bell Labs management responded by
selecting two students from each class to send for their PhDs. I was
one. I wanted to go to MIT or Harvard; I was accepted at both. I chose
Harvard because it didn’t require a written preliminary exam as
MIT did. The MIT prelim was legendary for containing tricky questions
that would have required a year of preparation. Harvard had a verbal
prelim, which I sailed through.
I moved with Florence and our two children, Paula and Leonard, to Brookline,
MA, from where I could bike to Harvard. By the time I graduated, our
third, Ellen, had arrived. I was able to manage financially because
Bell Labs still paid my regular salary. I enjoyed grad school immensely
but, as a father of three, I needed to graduate quickly. My thesis,
completed in 1960, was on ferromagnetic resonance at microwave frequencies
and high pressures; my advisors were C. Lester Hogan and, later, R.
More good luck: just after I returned to the Crawford Hill Lab, Ted
Maiman at Hughes demonstrated the first laser, setting off a frenzy
of activity in the research departments. Most people tried to reproduce
Maiman’s result and then move on to more practical lasers. I decided
to leave the pack to work on microwave light modulators. A rule-of-thumb
in microwave communication systems was that the system bandwidth could
be 5% of the carrier frequency. For a laser carrier at 1000-nm wavelength,
or 330 THz, the modulation frequency might be as high as 16 THz. This
high frequency was out of the question then and we are still not there,
but I did look for means of reaching 10 GHz modulation frequencies using
the linear electro optic effect in KH2PO4. I worked on the electro optic
modulators for about 15 years, exploring materials and device physics.
Bell Labs was the perfect venue. In the Research department, we had
experts in all aspects of science and technology, and I collaborated
with many. The most practical electro optic material turned out to be
LiNbO3, which was being grown and studied by Kurt Nassau in the Murray
Hill lab. One important invention of mine (with Ron Schmidt) was the
titanium-diffused LiNbO3 waveguide and modulator, which has been used
in many commercial telecom systems.
Afterwards, I was able to find other interesting research topics, such
as semiconductor lasers, birefringent fibers and all-optical networks.
In 1984, I was promoted to Head of the Photonics Networks and Components
Research Department. In this job, I was able to mentor and support some
very creative people. As the result of an anti-trust agreement, 1984
was also the year of the divestiture of AT&T’s Bell System
into local and long distance service providers. We had to adjust to
a deregulated, competitive business environment. I retired from Bell
Labs in 1996, the year of a further separation into the long distance
carrier AT&T and the equipment vendor Lucent, which included Bell
In 1996, a confluence of events was brewing the “telecom bubble”.
Four different technologies happened to mature at about the same time:
optical fiber communications, the personal computer, the Internet and
the Web browser. Investors and entrepreneurial engineers spawned an
era of “irrational exuberance” in search of fame and fortune
in Information Technology (IT). The bubble burst in March 2001, as measured
by a peak in the NASDAQ stock index, with a severe loss of jobs and
The old Bell Labs research department comprised about 1200 researchers
nestled in a much larger development department, which, in turn, was
nurtured in the bosom of the nation-wide Bell System monopoly, entrusted
by the government to provide reliable telephone service to the US. Unfortunately,
when global competition became the norm, the staid telephone mentality
was no match for the nimble and aggressive mindset of the new IT competitors.
The academic atmosphere and innovative motivation that defined Bell
Labs Research was no longer viable in the absence of monopoly funding.
Today a smaller, more reactive Bell Labs survives as a component of
the Alcatel-Lucent merger. Looking back now, I was very lucky to have
enjoyed the golden years of Bell Labs. I owe them my gratitude for their
Over the years, I have benefited from many happy coincidences and lucky
choices. Indeed, luck plays an important part in any career. Still,
luck is not enough, I had to be in the right places at the right times
in order to have a chance to seize these opportunities. As the old saying
goes: it takes luck and pluck.
Ivan Kaminow retired from Bell Labs in 1996 after a
42-year career (1954-1996), mostly in lightwave research. At Bell Labs,
he did seminal studies on electro optic modulators and materials, Raman
scattering in ferroelectrics, integrated optics (including titanium-diffused
lithium niobate modulators), semiconductor lasers (including the DBR
laser, ridge waveguide InGaAsP laser and multi-frequency laser), birefringent
optical fibers and WDM lightwave networks. Later, as Head of the Photonic
Networks and Components Research Department, he led research on WDM
components (including the erbium-doped fiber amplifier, waveguide grating
router and the fiber Fabry-Perot resonator), and on WDM local and wide
area networks. Earlier (1952-1954), he did research on microwave antenna
arrays at Hughes Aircraft Company.
After retiring from Bell Labs, he served as IEEE Congressional Fellow
on the staffs of the House Science Committee and the Congressional Research
Service (Science Policy Research Division) in the Library of Congress.
From 1997 to 1999, he returned to Lucent Bell Labs as a part-time Consultant.
He also established Kaminow Lightwave Technology to provide consulting
services to technology companies, and to patent and litigation law firms.
In 1999 he served as Senior Science Advisor to the Optical Society of
America. He received degrees from Union College (BSEE), UCLA (MSE) and
Harvard (AM, Ph.D.). He was a Hughes Fellow at UCLA and a Bell Labs
Fellow at Harvard. He has been Visiting Professor at Princeton, Berkeley,
Columbia, and the University of Tokyo, and Kwangju University (Korea).
Currently, he is Adjunct Professor in EECS at University of California,
Berkeley, where he has been teaching since 2004. He has published over
240 papers, received 47 patents, and has written or co- edited 5 books,
the most recent being “Optical Fiber Telecommunications IV A&B,”
co- edited with Tingye Li and published in March 2002. “Optical
Fiber Telecommunications V A&B,” co-edited with Tingye Li
and Alan Willner will be published in March 2008.
Kaminow is a Life Fellow of IEEE and Fellow of APS and OSA. He is the
recipient of the Bell Labs Distinguished Member of Technical Staff Award,
IEEE Quantum Electronics Award, OSA Charles Townes Award, IEEE/LEOS/OSA
John Tyndall Award, IEEE Third Millennium Medal and Union College Alumni
Gold Medal. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a
Diplomate of the American Board of Laser Surgery, and a Fellow of the
New York Academy of Medicine.