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  • 2010 Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation: The Finalists

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2011
The finalists have been announced for the 2010 Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation, an international competition sponsored by Photonics Media and SPIE to recognize photonic products that test conventional ideas, solve problems and improve life through the generation and harnessing of light.

This year’s 26 finalists provide exciting innovations that, in many cases, replace large, inefficient and costly systems with ones that are smaller, easier and less expensive to operate, and more environmentally friendly.

The winners will be announced during SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco on Wednesday, Jan. 26, at an awards ceremony and dinner and will be featured in the February issue of Photonics Spectra.

The finalists, by category, are:

Scientific Lasers

Coherent Inc.
Legend Elite Duo HP

Until now, 10-W-class ultrafast amplifiers have required cryogenic cooling and multiple pump lasers, resulting in large, complex, noisy and maintenance-intensive systems. The Legend Elite Duo HP alleviates this problem with simple thermoelectric cooling and with a single pump laser integrated with the amplifier that delivers up to 12.5 W of power. The kilohertz Ti:sapphire ultrafast amplifier can deliver pulse lengths of <25 fs.

NT200 series nanosecond tunable wavelength lasers

Experiments requiring a monochromatic widely tunable light source from the UV to the IR were not possible before the introduction of the NT200 series wavelength-tunable pulsed laser system because the low laser repetition rate made data acquisition too slow. This integrated laser/ optical parametric oscillator offers an output wavelength range from 210 (deep-UV) to 2600 nm (IR), and the 1000-Hz repetition rate enables fast data acquisition.

MPB Communications/European Southern Observatory visible Raman fiber amplifier
This narrowband visible Raman fiber amplifier is based on narrowband amplifier technology developed by the European Southern Observatory. The all-fiber design makes the system self-contained and, with no bulk optics, no technician is needed to ensure that the optics are properly aligned. The system can amplify a narrowband input signal of 10 mW+ between 1120 and 1184 nm and convert it into the visible spectrum without the use of hazardous dyes. It also consumes 90 percent less power than conventional systems, while achieving a narrow-linewidth-preserving output power of 2 W.

Industrial Lasers

Amplitude Systemes
Tangerine ultrafast fiber laser

The main challenge in the development of high-energy, ultrafast fiber lasers has been the confinement of the laser beam in the fiber core. The Tangerine uses proprietary extremely large-mode-area photonic crystal fibers that exhibit single-transverse-mode guiding on a large-core diameter, decreasing the laser intensity inside the fiber. The Tangerine produces >100-µJ pulse energy, which, combined with its unique high peak power (>20 W), enables machining of almost any material, including glass, ceramics, metals, or even explosive or hazardous materials.

IPG Photonics
Long-pulse fiber lasers YLR-150/1500-QCW-AC

These quasi-continuous-wave pulsed fiber lasers create an entirely new class of industrial lasers. The long-pulse fiber lasers perform all the tasks of conventional flashlamp-pumped lasers, only better and faster, with 30 percent wall-plug efficiency instead of 3 percent and in a dramatically smaller, 19-in. rack-mount air-cooled package. The proprietary pump diodes can be pulsed at 10 times their average power. In a quasi-continuous regime, they can pump an active fiber to produce 15 J from a 150-W fiber laser.

Smart Light active pulse management

A breakthrough in pulse-width stabilization for ultrafast lasers, Smart Light active pulse management technology comprises integrated hardware and software components that enable stable pulse width output during ambient temperature changes and varied laser settings, such as output power. Even modest changes in ambient temperature can have a profound effect on the quality of an ultrafast laser by dramatically increasing pulse width. Raydiance’s solution uses an active software/hardware feedback loop to continuously analyze output pulses and autonomously adjust chromatic dispersion to compensate for changes to pulse width that can occur as a result of changing ambient conditions – temperature, humidity, airflow – or to user-selected laser settings. The result is a much more predictable and reliable ultrafast manufacturing tool.

Optics and Optical Components

Edmund Optics
TechSpec plastic hybrid aspheric lenses

With the introduction of spherical- and chromatic-aberration-free TechSpec plastic hybrid aspheric lenses, multielement lens designs are no longer needed to achieve a diffraction-limited focused spot at high numerical apertures with broadband light sources. Although this concept has been well-established for years in the infrared, these are the first hybrid aspheres designed to work in the visible spectrum. Another innovation is the fact that a mold for the lens is diamond turned, instead of the lens itself. The final lens is simply pressed from the existing mold, yielding a cost-effective solution that is available in high volume.

Molecular Technology GmbH (MolTech)
Focal-πShaper beam-shaping optics

Lasers are becoming more and more popular for tasks such as edge isolation, via drilling and marking in solar cell production, as well as for patterning and edge deleting in thin-film solar cells. A laser’s performance of these and other tasks can be greatly improved by applying a beam-shaping technique, and the Focal-πShaper is just such a tool. With nearly 100 percent efficiency, the instrument converts a Gaussian laser beam into one optimized to create flattop (uniform), doughnut and other intensity profiles near the focal plane of the lens. Other optical solutions that rely on arrays of microlenses, micromirrors, prisms and diffractive optical elements can be expensive, overly complex and unreliable, with low resistance to powerful laser radiation and a narrow depth of field. The Focal-πShaper generates flattop and other intensity profiles for laser spots of several microns or tens of microns in size.

VersaChrome tunable bandpass filters

When the angle of light on an optical filter is varied, the spectral shape usually changes dramatically, mainly because of the emergence of strong polarization dependence. With VersaChrome, the polarization dependence and resulting spectral distortion are eliminated. This new kind of thin-film optical filter offers tunability over a wide range of wavelengths, making it possible for optical systems to benefit from tunable filters with all the spectral and two-dimensional imaging performance characteristics of thin-film filters, while at the same time offering the center-wavelength tuning speed and flexibility of a diffraction grating.

Defense and Security

Block Engineering
LaserScan QCL-based spectrometers

Based on a widely tunable quantum cascade laser (QCL), the LaserScan is a handheld mid-infrared laser spectrometer that enables high-sensitivity, standoff (inches to feet) analysis measurements. This handheld laser spectrometer offers the widest tuning range (600 cm–1) currently available in a mid-IR QCL through its external-cavity-based tuning module. LaserScan’s extremely fast electronics allow the detector to essentially correlate the light that it collects with the specific wavelength of the laser, enabling the system to build up a continuous spectrum at high spectral resolution using absorption spectroscopy.

CVI Melles Griot
Xsquared™ high extinction plate polarizer

This polarizing optic uses sputter-coating technology to create dense coating layers that allow for an exceptionally high extinction ratio (100,000:1). Unlike Brewster angle polarizers, which work at an angle of incidence of 56°, the Xsquared provides easy beam alignment at 45°. It solves the problem of very high extinction and moderate laser damage tolerance and provides ease of use and high-end optical specifications. When compared with the output of other types of polarizers, fewer correction optics are required, often resulting in an overall cost savings within the system.

Headwall Photonics Inc.
Hyperspec Point & Stare sensor

The Hyperspec Point & Stare hyperspectral imaging system allows the sensor to be on the ground for the first time, next to the soldier, rather than in an airborne system. The Hyperspec is small enough and robust enough to be easily transportable and deployable for a greater range of missions, over a wider geographical area and in very harsh environments. The system operates in the visible/near-IR (VNIR), extended VNIR, NIR and short-wave IR spectral ranges.

Life Sciences and Biophotonics

Genia Photonics
Synchronized programmable picosecond fiber laser

Synchronizing pulses of different wavelengths is paramount in nonlinear optics where both spatial and temporal overlapping is required. This synchronized programmable picosecond fiber laser offers a more robust and reliable solution than current conventional laser systems for generating two synchronized pulses at different wavelengths in the picosecond regime. As light is guided by the fiber, spatial overlap is automatically achieved without the need for alignment. The synchronized laser system is composed of a programmable, dispersion-tuned, actively mode-locked fiber laser and a fiber master oscillator power amplifier whose outputs are combined through a wavelength division multiplexer coupler.

JenLab GmbH

The tomograph MPTflex is a compact, easy-to-move, easy-to-handle system with a flexible scan head that includes two detectors for simultaneous measurement of autofluorescence and second-harmonic generation. The system overcomes previous skin-imaging limitations, such as poor resolution and the lack of marker-free fluorescence imaging. Equipped with an articulated optical arm, it provides increased flexibility and accessibility, and rapid high-quality image acquisition, all of which qualify it to be used for melanoma detection, diagnostics of dermatological disorders, cosmetic research and skin aging measurements, and in situ drug monitoring and animal research.

Photonis USA
Gen2 UltraFast™ time-of-flight detector

This time-of-flight (TOF) detector can double the mass resolution of an ion time-of-flight mass spectrometer at low mass. Mass resolution and accuracy are limited in today’s most sophisticated TOF mass spectrometers by the speed and symmetry of the detector pulse, as well as by the uniformity of the transit time of the ion arrival signal through the detector. The Gen2 UltraFast solves these problems by using a new patented microchannel plate design to control flatness and time jitter. Fundamental changes to the detector’s anode design reduce measured pulse widths by more than a factor of two with respect to previous state-of-the-art detectors.

Detectors, Sensing, Imaging and Cameras

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.
Electronically steerable Flash lidar

In an active lidar instrument, photons are a precious commodity. Ball’s electronically steerable Flash lidar (ESFL) allows for maximum efficiency by reconfiguring the illuminated scene shot-to-shot without the use of mechanical scanning, meaning that the illumination area can change in real time to adapt to the current scene. Shot-to-shot reconfiguration of the output beams also allows for steering around undesirable objects, such as buildings or clouds, in favor of specific targets. The design uses a single 1064-nm Nd:YAG pulsed laser operating at a low repetition rate, which significantly increases the reliability of the instrument while lowering the risk and cost of the mission. The use of an acousto-optic beam deflector in a lidar instrument to avoid a scanning mechanism also makes it suitable for space applications.

General Electric Co.
TrueSense personal water analytics

This automated 44-element LED photo-diode array system for wavelength-multiplexed quantitative and highly selective chemical analysis of industrial water dramatically shortens testing time from 50 to 8 min and can perform eight water-quality tests simultaneously from one sample. The system minimizes the need to maintain an inventory of reagent chemicals and equipment for testing and considerably cuts testing costs, while dramatically simplifying testing procedures. It requires simple steps that anyone can follow, regardless of their training background, and provides a flexible platform for future tests.

Specim, Spectral Imaging Ltd.
ImSpector thermal IR hyperspectral imagers

Industrial hyperspectral chemical imaging currently works in the visible/near-IR and short-wave IR spectral ranges, limiting the applicability of this powerful technique because some chemical compounds have their most distinctive and strongest spectral signatures in the mid-wave or long-wave IR regions (3 to 5 and 8 to 12 µm). Also, only very expensive Fourier transform IR imaging spectrometers are available for IR hyperspectral imaging. Specim’s thermal IR hyperspectral imagers, part of its ImSpector line of imaging spectrographs, are the first and only push-broom type (a mode where all the wavelengths are acquired at the same time) thermal IR hyperspectral imagers on the market and are built in such a way that they can be applied to industrial on-line processes.

Other Light Sources

Energetiq Technology Inc.
EQ-99 LDLS™ laser-driven light source

As scientists perform spectroscopy or imaging on increasingly smaller samples and with increasingly higher resolution, higher light source brightness, especially in the deep-UV, is required. Existing light sources do not have such brightness or spectral range. In addition, they exhibit short operating life, driving up operating costs. The EQ-99 LDLS is a single light source covering a broader spectral range, with brightness more than an order of magnitude higher and lifetime at least an order of magnitude longer than traditional xenon and deuterium lamps, enabling high spectroscopic or image resolution at lower cost of ownership.

Innovations in Optics Inc.
1240B-100 UV LED projector

This LED-based product provides high uniformity and power density area illumination in the UV spectrum to replace expensive, inefficient and toxic mercury-based lamps in medical fluorescence diagnostic imaging or industrial UV curing applications. By using LEDs, the projector can be up to five times more efficient and have a lifetime more than 10 times as long as that provided by mercury lamps. The system also operates at low voltage, with no need for the expensive and dangerous voltages required for mercury-based systems.

Texas Instruments DLP
DLP LightCommander

DLP (Digital Light Processing) LightCommander is a highly versatile, easy-to-use development kit for incorporating DLP technology into specific applications. Featuring an optical light engine, a modular architecture, and industry-standard interfaces and application software, the DLP LightCommander helps developers expedite optical, electronic and system software development requiring high-speed spatial light modulation. It equips developers with the necessary tools to accelerate system development with DLP, enabling them to address a broad range of industrial, medical and communications markets and to speed light-processing applications to market.

Test, Measurement, Metrology

4D Technology Corp.
PhaseCam Sq dynamic white light interferometer

The PhaseCam Sq combines vibration-insensitive dynamic interferometry, a broadband light source, a first-of-its-kind polarization-based Linnik objective and innovative position methods to enable roughness measurement in 100 µs for optics with diameters larger than 30 cm and roughness down to subangstrom rms. Surface roughness is critical to the performance of precision optics, particularly the latest generation of x-ray optics and optics for large telescopes, synchrotrons, fusion experiments and directed energy. No other acceptable method is currently available for direct measurement of roughness on such large-diameter optics. The PhaseCam Sq yields quantitative, repeatable feedback for polishing processes, is far faster than replication or witness sample techniques, and eliminates potential damage to one-of-a-kind, mission-critical optics.

Anasys Instruments Corp.

IR spectroscopy, despite being the most common lab technique in industrial and academic settings, cannot be used for samples with features below a few microns. NanoIR enables IR spectroscopy use in applications requiring high resolution, such as polymers, life sciences and semiconductors, by using an atomic force microscope probe as a mechanical detector of IR absorbance, surmounting the diffraction limit imposed on conventional optical detection of IR spectroscopy. Packaged with the product is a lower-cost IR laser that is tunable between 1000 and 4000 cm—1.

EXFO Life Sciences & Industrial Div. (now Lumen Dynamics)
X-Cite XP750

The X-Cite XP750 is an optical power measurement device designed specifically for use on the microscope stage. Light sources used for fluorescence microscopy can be highly variable, and without knowing the actual power output at the specimen plane, running truly repeatable imaging experiments is impossible. Measuring power at the specimen plane was awkward and inconvenient with the available tools. The X-Cite XP750 sensor is shaped like a microscope slide, so it fits easily in standard stage clips to hold it in place. The sensor is thin enough (9 mm) to fit under the objectives on an upright microscope without having to remove the stage or condenser.

Information and Communication

Photonis USA
Optical receiver module

In optical communication signal detection, it is sometimes necessary to use a large active input diameter while still maintaining high speed. The choice in optical receivers often has been between solid-state-based systems that support high speeds but have a very small active area or photomultiplier designs with small output currents. This detector bridges the gap by supporting high signal inputs while maintaining a speed of 2 GHz. The reliability of signal current in the blue-green wavelength range improves without significant bit-error rates, enabling through-the-air or underwater communications in less-than-ideal environmental circumstances because of the large collection area, and for unmanned locations, resulting from the low power requirements.

Pixel Qi Corp.
3Qi thin-film transistor LCD screen with LED backlight

The 3Qi is an LCD optimized for high efficiency and low power consumption, fully viewable under any lighting condition (indoors, outdoors and at night) and with high resolution for reading. The product is part of a new generation of low-power “transflective” technology screens that are excellent at reflection and transmission and can be built in many existing LCD fabs. Previous uses of transflective LCD technology have been stuck with a trade-off – they were good at either reflection or transmission, but not both.

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