Tom Hyongsok Soh, 32
When Tom Soh was a Stanford University graduate student, his focus was scholarly: to push the envelope in nanotechnology research. Things have changed since he arrived at Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs. Soh heads optical microelectromechanical development at Lucent spinoff Agere Systems, in Allentown, PA.His task is to make optical communications systems more efficient and intelligent. His group’s first success was a microelectromechanical switching device that routes fiber-optic signals without converting them to electronic form and then back to optical. Those conversions cause the biggest bottlenecks in today’s telecom systems, and Soh’s optical switch offers huge gains in speed and capacity. Agere began large-scale production in March 2002,after it received significant orders from top customers. Soh has since led development of another product, the optical add/drop multiplexer, which allows light-wave transmissions to be added or dropped at critical nodes without electronic conversion. Currently overseeing 12 engineers, Soh believes great things can be achieved with team chemistry.