CLEMSON — Private gifts from telecommunication companies Comporium and PalmettoNet of South Carolina, along with a state match, have raised $4 million to establish an Optoelectronics Research Center of Economic Excellence in the Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Clemson University. The field of optoelectronics focuses on improving the devices, systems and protocols used in high-speed communication networks.

The new Center of Economic Excellence will be supported by the PalmettoNet Endowed Chair in Optoelectronics and the Comporium Fund for Excellence in Optoelectronics. It will be the nexus for a community of scholars and entrepreneurs with shared interests and expertise in optoelectronics research, which is the study of the interaction of light with electronic devices using photons and electrons. The center will strengthen the research program in the Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies (COMSET). The center will be located along with COMSET and the Electron Microscope Facility at the Advanced Materials Research Laboratory in Anderson County.

“Optoelectronics are everywhere,” said Clemson President James F. Barker. “They are found in lasers, television and computer screens and in communication, medical and defense systems. To see this technology advanced at Clemson University is an honor and we are very grateful to Comporium, PalmettoNet and the state of South Carolina.”

Holcombe Electrical and Computer Engineering Department chairman Darren Dawson said the center will be led by the PalmettoNet Endowed Chair in Optoelectronics.

“This generous funding will help create an internationally reputable program that will enable us to recruit a world-class faculty leader to the state of South Carolina to lead the research in this burgeoning area of technology,” said Dawson. “We are located in a cluster area of optoelectronics companies and this center should further the creation of high tech jobs in the state.”

Comporium of Rock Hill and PalmettoNet of Columbia invested $1 million each to support the research and educational activities of the center. That money will be matched by the state for a $4 million total investment.

Comporium is a diversified telecommunications company in the Carolinas that has grown to become the second-largest telephone exchange company in South Carolina and the 16th largest in the nation.

“Our company is honored to support the Optoelectronics Center of Economic Excellence at Clemson because it will lead to developments in our industry,” said Bryant Barnes, president and CEO of Comporium. “Optoelectronics positions Clemson, its students and our state for a bright future in a host of new technologies and applications that converge with communications.”

PalmettoNet provides fiber optic broadband capacity to the secondary and tertiary markets of the Carolinas. Its founding members include Comporium and other telephone companies in the state that joined forces with the goal of offering their customers and Interexchange carriers the most advanced telecommunications technology available. 

“Optoelectronics is the core technology for PalmettoNet’s 4,100 miles of lighted network throughout the Carolinas, and our support for Clemson’s Optoelectronics Center is part of our continuing investment in high-speed broadband communications in South Carolina,” said Vernon Williams, CEO of PalmettoNet.

Clemson worked with PalmettoNet to bring National Lambda Rail to South Carolina via SC LightRail and will work with PalmettoNet on future projects. SC LightRail is a public-private partnership to provide a broadband high-speed optical network that extends throughout the state to be used exclusively for research.

The South Carolina General Assembly in 2002 established the Centers of Economic Excellence Program, which is funded by South Carolina Education Lottery proceeds. The legislation authorizes the state’s three public research institutions to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence in research areas that will advance South Carolina’s economy. The state funds must be matched dollar-for-dollar by private investment in the program. The program also supports endowed chairs, world-renowned scientists who lead the Centers of Economic Excellence.

The program has created 12 Centers of Economic Excellence supporting 15 endowed chairs at Clemson to take advantage of the university’s existing faculty expertise and research strengths. This state program awarded the Optoelectronics Center of Economic Excellence at Clemson in 2008 with $2 million to be matched in private funds.


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