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  • Optical's Interesting History in Kerala
Mar 2010
Mar. 19, 2010 — C.P. Girijavallabhan, Professor Emeritus, International School of Photonics (ISP), Cochin, and its founder director, was very kind enough to share with me an interesting story of the long history that optical technology has had in the Indian state of Kerala.

"Optical technology in Kerala has interestingly a long history. The world-renowned metal mirrors come from a place near central Travancore and these are known as “Aranmula Mirrors,” referring to the place of their origin. These mirrors have a history of many centuries and they were prized items in the collection of the kings and the queens and the rich landlords of the erstwhile period. The Aranmula Mirrors could rival the imported Belgian mirrors in terms of their ruggedness, longevity and usefulness.

"These mirrors are even now being cast using an alloy composition, the details of which were passed on from generation to generation of traditional craftsmen and artisans. They also make use of polishing methods using locally available sand in the riverbanks (remember, the cerium oxide is processed in India from the monazite sand from the beaches of Kerala). The freshly polished surface of the metal flat is finally treated with certain herbal juices, which helps to prevent the tarnishing process.

“The finished mirrors are superbly flat and oxidation resistant so that the surface reflection is unaffected by aging over the years of use. The Regional Research laboratory at Trivandrum has in recent years carried out a scientific study of the optical and metallurgical properties Aranmula Mirrors."

I have already detailed the activities of the International School of Photonics (ISP), Cochin, in an earlier post.

What isn't well known is that the efforts made on the academic field in Kerala have had a direct impact in the state's industrial scene. The R&D programs of the International School of Photonics in fiber optics have had a direct relevance to Nest Photonics at Cochin, which is major collaborator and beneficiary of the activities at the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT).

The ISP has also transferred know how and technology in the past to other small-scale industries engaged in the manufacturing of optics and photonics related products. Holmarc Slides and Controls, Prompt Engineering Co., etc., are examples of such catalytic role played by ISP in relation to Kerala's optical industry.

I will mention some of the interesting projects that I got to see at APW 2010 in my next post.

Of course, there has been another interesting development – a Solar Thermal Federation of India (STFI) was announced on March 18. But more on that later!


cerium oxide
A polishing material that has a quicker polishing action than rouge (ferric oxide) and that is cleaner to handle.
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