Mao joins ECE faculty to explore optical telecommunication networks

Posted: April 6, 2021

In the path toward next-generation communication networks, research in microelectronics and fiber optics is helping to lead the way.

Chongchang Mao recently joined The Ohio State University as a research professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering to further these efforts. He is building a group at the ElectroScience Laboratory to explore research in microelectronics, free-space optics, fiber optics, and liquid crystal materials to explore advanced networks.

“We’re developing technologies and products for high-speed and low-latency optical telecom networks, including reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexers (ROADM) and wavelength selective switches (WSS),” Mao said. “ROADM and WSS systems can be widely deployed at fiber network nodes and data centers to increase network capacity, reduce signal delay, and lower operating costs.”

Throughout his career, Mao has bridged the gap between academia and industry, driving toward technology advancement and commercialization. He started as a research scientist at the Center for Optoelectric Computing Systems at the University of Colorado at Boulder before working with startup and mature companies for more than two decades. 

Transitioning to Ohio State, Mao plans to first target liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) technology and product development for optical networks and display applications. LCOS panels are the core sub-systems of ROADM and WSS systems. 

“We plan to build an optical test laboratory and a liquid crystal device assembly clean room at ESL,” Mao shared. “We’ll also work closely with other research institutes at The Ohio State University, including Nanotech West Laboratory.” 

At the University of Colorado at Boulder, Mao built a research foundation in liquid crystal display, very-large-scale integration (VLSI) design, and free-space optics. He worked on several projects for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Defense while collaborating with industry partners to advance optoelectronic technologies and products. 

“At CU Boulder, I was very interested in technology commercialization,” Mao said. “In 1997, Motorola initiated a free-space optical communication project that attracted my attention. I then joined its research center in Chicago to work on network technology development.”

After serving as a senior staff engineer at Motorola, Mao worked as the principal engineer and engineering director at Chorum Technologies, Inc. He led research and production teams doing optical component development for optical fiber networks. 

Mao’s path then took him to a startup company, Southeast TechInventures, Inc., where he guided an interdisciplinary team of experts focused on commercializing university breakthrough technologies. 

“Prior to joining Ohio State, I led several teams in developing world-class advancements in optical fiber networks, medical imaging, and liquid crystal modulators," Mao said. "When I was working with Southeast TechInventures in North Carolina, we successfully helped in transforming several university breakthrough technologies into industry applications."

Mao said he remains very interested in academic technology development.

"I am very interested in working with industry partners to further advance technologies and products," he said.

Most recently, Mao was the director of the free-space optics department at Futurewei Technologies in San Jose, California. In his role, he focused on ROADM and WSS systems that could be deployed in telecommunication networks to increase capacity and flexibility.

“We also successfully developed core devices for such systems, including liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) phase modulators, polarization grating (PG) arrays, and liquid crystal switches,” Mao said.

At Ohio State, Mao is looking forward to collaborating with researchers at ESL and the extended university community within the realm of free-space optics, optical networks, and quantum networks. He is currently inviting doctoral students to join his newly formed Optical Telecommunication Research Group at ESL. 

Article adapted from ElectroScience Laboratory.

Interested collaborators can connect with Dr. Mao via email at