When the history of the birth of optical computing and communications comes to be written, Melbourne University in Victoria looks set to take a place of honour alongside the pioneering Scottish universities. Professor Rodney Tucker of the university’s electrical and electronics engineering department claims to have developed the first optical packet switch, and Fujitsu Ltd is sufficiently impressed that it is donating $450,000 to foster further development of the device. According to the Melbourne Age, Dr Hajime Imai, an opto-electronics specialist at Fujitsu Laboratories in Japan, visited Melbourne earlier this week to work out the collaborative agreement with Melbourne University. The biggest benefit of the Fujitsu link is that it gives the Australian researchers access to its semiconductor fabrication facilities for opto-electronic devices so that they can turn their designs into working models. The agreement also provides for an exchange of researchers between the university and Fujitsu’s labs: they will work on high-speed lasers, tunable lasers, array lasers, waveguide devices and other new structures, which will be fabricated at Fujitsu’s laboratories in Japan. Professor Tucker worked for AT&T Co, another optical computing pioneer, until he became the head of the department last year. He said that Telecom Australia and OTC Ltd, the former Overseas Telecommunications Commission, had financed the work of his team in developing the photonic packet-switched network and have first rights to develop the technology for commercial use. Under the agreement, the intellectual rights to any technological breakthrough belongs to the university, though Fujitsu has licensing rights to use the technology in return for royalty payments. The Australian government runs a scheme whereby high-tech companies that want to sell to the public sector have to assist local organisations with research projects.