Inventor of the Week Archive
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Optical Information Processing
Dr. Cardinal Warde, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT,
is considered one of the world's leading experts on materials, devices and systems
for optical information processing. Warde holds ten key patents on spatial light
modulators, displays, and optical information processing systems. He is a co-inventor
of the microchannel spatial light modulator, membrane-mirror light shutters
based on micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), an optical bistable device,
and a family of charge-transfer plate spatial light modulators.
Warde grew up on the small Caribbean island of Barbados. As a young boy he
started making his own toys. In Barbados he attended St. Christopher's Boys
School, Boys' Foundation School and Harrison College, and was a sprinter on
the high-school track team. His parents demanded excellence of him in school,
but gave him lots of freedom and support so he could engage his inquisitive
mind outside the classroom. By age 16, he had converted his father's unused
carpenter's shop into a chemistry and physics laboratory, and with his high
school friends he was launching homemade rockets (with mice aboard) from the
beach near his home. Fortunately, he says, none of his rockets escaped earth's
gravity and most of the mice got their freedom when the rockets crashed.
After finishing high school in 1965, Warde boarded a plane for the United
States. He received a bachelor's degree in physics from the Stevens
Institute of Technology in 1969, where he was also a member of the school's
varsity soccer team. His passion for physics continued into graduate school
at Yale University where he earned M.Phil. and
Ph.D. degrees in 1971 and 1974.
While at Yale, Warde invented a new interferometer that would work near absolute
zero temperature in order to measure the refractive index and thickness of solid
oxygen films for his Ph.D. research. This experience stimulated his keen passion
for optics and optical engineering. Immediately after earning the Ph.D. Warde
wrote letters to several of the leading engineering and science universities
inquiring about possible appointment to their faculties. MIT responded to his
inquiry, and he joined its faculty of the Electrical Engineering and Computer
Science in 1974 as an Assistant Professor.
At MIT Warde's interest shifted toward the engineering applications of optics.
He became involved with other members of the faculty in the development of devices
for enhancing the performance of optical atmospheric (wireless) communication
systems to improve communication performance in inclement weather, and on the
development of photorefractive materials for real-time holography and optical
computing. To date, he has published over one hundred technical papers on optical
materials, devices and systems.
Today, Warde's research activities are focused on the development of optical
neural-network co-processors that are expected to endow the next generation
of PC's with rudimentary brain-like processing; transparent liquid-crystal microdisplays
for display eyeglasses and novel cellular phones; membrane-mirror-based spatial
light modulators for optical switching and projection displays; and spectro-polarimetric imaging sensors for remote-sensing applications.
In addition to his research and teaching duties, Warde is also an entrepreneur:
in 1982 he founded Optron Systems, Inc.,
an incubator company dedicated to developing novel electro-optic and MEMS displays,
and light shutters and modulators for optical signal processing systems. Then
in 1999 he co-founded Radiant
Images, Inc., a company engaged in the manufacture of transparent liquid-crystal
VLSI microdisplays for digital camera and camcorder viewfinders, portable telecommunications
devices, and display eyeglasses.
Dr. Warde has also dedicated himself to working with Caribbean governments
and organizations to help stimulate economic development in the Caribbean area.
As such he lectures frequently throughout the Caribbean at scientific and government
meetings on the role of technology and education reform on economic development.
He also serves, informally, as a scientific advisor to the Government of Barbados.
In addition, for the last ten years Warde has mentored students in the Network
Program of the New England Board of Higher Education. The goals of this program
are to motivate and encourage minority youth in the six New England states to
consider majoring in science and engineering and to pursue careers in these
fields. He has been recognized with a number of awards and honors for his work,
including the Renaissance Science and Engineering Award from Stevens Institute
of Technology in 1996.