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Czeching out photonics from Prague to Kiev

Photonics Spectra
May 2009
Report from Central and Eastern Europe

Caren B. Les, News Editor, caren.les@laurin.com

Within the central and eastern European regions, photonics research is strong in various countries, including the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine, according to Dr. Pavel Tománek, who heads the Laboratory of Optical Nanometrolgy at Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic. The principal photonics-related effort for many countries in the region is focused on research and development – the business activities are not yet well developed, said Tománek, who is also chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the European Optical Society, the Photonics Prague conferences and the SPIE Europe Congress on Optics and Optoelectronics.

For a report on the Russian laser optics market, see the April 2009 issue of Photonics Spectra.

Czech Republic

Located southeast of Germany in central Europe, the Czech Republic has a population of about 10.2 million. Industries, which include motor vehicles, metallurgy, machinery and equipment, glass and armaments, account for 40.2 percent of its labor force.

Tománek cited some of the more significant Czech businesses and institutions that are involved in the photonics industry.

Meopta Perov AS, he said, has a long, rich tradition in the production of optical-mechanical equipment for consumer, commercial, industrial and military applications. Based in Perov, the company, which employs 2300, is a supplier of sports and military optics, optoelectromechanical systems and medical technology. Tománek said that the company, which seeks modern management and production methods, is in the process of acquiring high technologies and developing new products and is ready to establish relationships and alliances with companies that have similar business interests and goals.

Pushing the limits

Another Czech photonics enterprise, Optaglio sro of Rez u Prahy, is a member of the Optaglio Group, which includes Optaglio Ltd. in Andover, UK, and Metallic Security rso in Jablonec, Czech Republic. The company engages in its own long-term research and development for the production of optical security devices and holograms. It is pushing the limits of the security technologies based on the optical devices and enlarging the portfolio of new products that protect against counterfeiting. Tománek said that the company’s offerings can be found in more than 50 countries across four continents in many different marketing areas. Customers are mainly state-owned institutions, ministry offices and well-known companies that want to protect their brand name, he added.

The Centre for Modern Optics at Palack University Olomouc has a long tradition, and its results in quantum cryptography and in coherence, nonlinear and quantum optics are well-known, Tománek said. Its research addresses areas such as manipulation and information transport using optical signals, the precise measurement of light characteristics at the level of single photons and quantum noise, and the interaction of light and matter.

At Czech Technical University in Prague, investigators are exploring areas such as satellite laser ranging, information physics, picosecond timing and detection technology, and solid-state lasers and their medical applications. At Brno University of Technology and at Technical University Ostrava, researchers are directing their inquiries into sensing, nano-optics, nanophotonics and optical telecommunications.

Academy of Sciences

Based in Prague, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, the country’s largest nonuniversity research organization, encompasses several photonics research entities.

Investigators at the academy’s Institute of Physics’ Division of Optics are directing their inquiries into quantum statistics of nonlinear optical phenomena, quantum interference, correlations and nonlocality, and quantum cryptography. They are researching and preparing various thin films and layers, including nanocomposite films, alloys and multilayer structures. An ultrahigh-vacuum hollow cathode plasma jet reactor was built for and applied to rapid deposition of highly oriented films with complicated stoichiometry.

Within the academy structure are two photonics research laboratories, each with partners. The joint research center, established with the academy’s Institute of Plasma Physics, is a laboratory built around the terawatt iodine Prague Asterix Laser System, which is used for studies of laser beam interaction with matter and, in particular, for the generation of hot and dense plasma. The Joint Laboratory of Optics, formed with Palack University, focuses on quantum optics, including quantum key distribution, a secure method for the distribution of encryption keys.

A medium-size nonprofit research institution belonging to the academy, the Prague-based Institute of Photonics and Electronics focuses on basic and applied research in those fields. It has gained recognition in the area of time and frequency metrology and is involved in graduate education and postgraduate training. Recent programs have addressed areas such as surface plasmon resonance biosensors and protein arrays for medical diagnostics, and the development of optical microresonators for chemical detection.

Also under the umbrella of the academy, the Institute of Scientific Instruments Brno envelops research areas such as stabilization of the frequency of semiconductor lasers and optical micromanipulation techniques.

Slovakia and Ukraine

According to Tománek, photonics research is being conducted at Slovak Technical University and at the International Laser Centre, both in Bratislava. Research projects there have addressed opto- and microelectronic organic material devices, the diagnostics and characterization of semiconductor devices and integrated circuits, and nanoscale A3B5, A2B6 and organic semiconductor heterostructures for optoelectronic and photonic devices.

Based in Kiev, the V. Lashkaryev Institute of Semiconductor Physics of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine leads the country in semiconductor technology and device research, Tománek said. The main branches of the institute are materials science and technology, thermometry and sensors, radiation sensors, optical elements, infrared electronics, solar cells and power sources, and lasers and biotechnology. It includes divisions for the investigation of optoelectronics and surface physics.

Romania

Dr. Dumitru Ulieru, research and development director at Sitex 45 srl of Bucharest, Romania, predicts that the photonics technologies market will continue to grow in central and eastern Europe despite the global economic downturn. There is a need for the technology, he said.

Sitex’s activities involve the development and manufacture of microelectronics components and optoelectronics devices, sensors and sensors arrays, transducers and microsystems (microelectromechanical and micro-optoelectromechanical systems). The company develops projects to implement new materials in the fields of micro- and nanotechnologies for environmental monitoring and microcontamination control.

Ulieru said that Sitex is seeking new and more attractive market niches and would like to acquire new equipment for packaging specific products. It also would like access to laser microwelding, -cutting and -drilling technologies as well as to rapid manufacturing and prototyping technologies such as laser patterning to bring new products to market more quickly.

Slovenia

Boris Vedlin, CEO of Optotek d.o.o. in Ljubljana, Slovenia, noted that some parts of central and eastern Europe, including Slovenia, Poland and Bulgaria, have a rather long tradition in the field of photonics that has resulted in established links among national and international industrial companies and research institutions. He said that many central and eastern European companies, in common projects with academic institutions, have lower research and development and labor costs, an advantage that puts them in a stronger position in terms of the global economic crisis.

Vedlin believes that the smaller, flexible innovative companies would have more success in the global economy than the larger, more rigid enterprises. He said that fragmentation of research projects and questionable priorities are significant problems for the regional industry.

Slovenia is known for its laser systems – particularly its medical lasers systems for applications in dentistry, dermatology and ophthalmology – and growth is expected in that area, he said. Optotek has research interests in areas such as engineering sciences and technologies, sensors and data acquisition, and biomedical technology.

Lithuania

Zenonas Kuprionis, commercial director for Ekspla UAB, a scientific and industrial laser supplier in Vilnius, Lithuania, said that the industrial laser market was quite weak in central and eastern Europe, even during the stronger economic period of 2004 through 2008, and that this year the market likely will shrink more than the average global industrial market. He said that European Union funds have had a good impact on the scientific laser market in central and eastern Europe for the past three or four years.

3_countries.jpg
Top, Bratislava; middle, business district in Vilnius Lithuania; bottom, Ljubljana.

Ekspla produces pico- and nanosecond solid-state lasers, laser spectroscopy systems and laser components for scientific and industrial applications. The company has been challenged by a slump in the sale of industrial lasers and materials processing systems and by stronger competition in the scientific market, Kuprionis said.

Vilnius has a strong photonics community that includes a cluster of more than 10 companies, among them Light Conversion Ltd., Standa Ltd. and Optolita uab, as well as the Department of Quantum Electronics and the Laser Research Center, both at Vilnius University. The companies’ numerous activities create a favorable infrastructure for developing complex, customized equipment, Kuprionis said.

Another Vilnius-based company, Rimkevicius and Gintautas Co. supplies precision optical products for laser and optical technology. Representing the company, Remigijus Rimkevicius said that challenges include finding qualified people to make the best possible products and finding a sufficient market for those products during economic downturns.


GLOSSARY
optoelectronics
A sub-field of photonics that pertains to an electronic device that responds to optical power, emits or modifies optical radiation, or utilizes optical radiation for its internal operation. Any device that functions as an electrical-to-optical or optical-to-electrical transducer. Electro-optic often is used erroneously as a synonym.
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