Professor Curtis Menyuk honored for pioneering work that helped transform global telecommunications

Published: Feb 16, 2024

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Curtis Menyuk (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

Curtis Menyuk, professor of computer science and electrical engineering at UMBC, has won the 2024 SPIE G.G. Stokes Award in Optical Polarization. The award honors Menyuk’s pioneering work in the 1980’s developing equations to describe how light propagates through optical fibers, as well as his ongoing contributions to the fields of optics and photonics.

The fast and reliable internet we enjoy today would not be possible without the fundamental work that Menyuk and his colleagues performed decades ago. Modern global telecommunication systems are built on backbones of optical fiber, and the rate of information flow through the fibers is limited by physical phenomena that affect the way light spreads. Over time and distance, these phenomena can turn a crisp signal into indecipherable garbage, and so optical communication system engineers must account for them in their designs. 

Menyuk developed equations that allow engineers to effectively model optical communication, most importantly by being the first equations to incorporate the effects of a property of light called its polarization. (Light travels as an oscillating electric field coupled to an oscillating magnetic field, and the direction of the electric field determines the polarization.) 

One consequence of the equations was the realization that spinning optical fiber can minimize signal distortion. 

“Curtis is a renowned pioneer in the field of optical communications, and over the years I witnessed the tremendous impact of his group’s work on the telecom industry, photonic technologies, and the field of optics in general,” says DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory physicist Michael Brodsky in a news story from SPIE announcing the award. 

For his part, Menyuk credits much of the impact of his work to his successful collaborations with colleagues and students. “It’s what comes from working with good people,” he says.

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