Melinda Rose, Senior Editor
The finalists for the 2011 Prism Awards for photonics innovation have been announced in nine categories by co-sponsors Photonics Media and SPIE, and feature a wide range of products, from eyeglasses that automatically change focus to the first product to incorporate artificial muscles with optics. Winners will be announced during a gala dinner at SPIE Photonics West 2012 in San Francisco.
The finalists, by category, are:
Xiton Photonics GmbH
This is the first commercially available industrial-grade diode-pumped solid-state (DPSS) deep-ultraviolet laser below 250 nm. The Impress 213 is a high-repetition-rate (more than 10 kHz) Q-switched laser with an emission wavelength of 213 nm, a very short wavelength that enables direct laser writing of structures with feature sizes below 1 µm. The laser delivers <7-ns short pulses with a superior beam quality of M2 <1.6. It is seen as an attractive replacement for standard UV sources, such as excimer lasers, which deliver a poor beam profile, and frequency-doubled argon-ion lasers, which consume dramatically high amounts of power and must be water-cooled.
Applications: metrology, micromachining, TFT display fabrication and quality control.
Newport Corp. Spectra-Physics
This is the first all-in-one DPSS laser of this class, combining the power supply, diodes and laser cavity. With shorter pulse widths, Mosaic Q-switched DPSS lasers have higher peak powers, resulting in cleaner laser scribing and less thermal damage to parts. Mosaic lasers also have excellent near- and far-field beam pointing stability and superior pulse-to-pulse stability. The integrated E-Pulse™ feature allows users to tailor the overall pulse energy to the job at hand. The Mosaic is smaller than competitive DPSS lasers of similar power, nearly maintenance free, and it offers low cost per watt.
Application: microelectronics manufacturing.
Answering the market’s need for a high-precision ultrafast tool that is reliable, industry-ready and affordable, this compact ultrafast fiber laser is the most advanced on the market, with a pulse duration of <500 fs and a repetition rate of 100 kHz to 2 MHz. The Satsuma 10W combines characteristics that are usually mutually exclusive: pulse energy >20 µJ, average power >10 W, in an air-cooled housing measuring <13 x 30 in. It overcomes the severe thermal limitations of crystal-based ytterbium lasers by incorporating the excellent heat dissipation properties of fiber.
Applications: refractive eye surgery, biomedical device manufacturing, and micromachining for the photovoltaics, semiconductor and anti-counterfeiting markets.
Newport Corp. Spectra-Physics
Based on novel technology, not Ti:sapphire, InSight DeepSee represents a game-changer for deep-tissue multiphoton imaging. It delivers nearly double the tuning range of existing ultrafast lasers (680 to 1300 nm), provides seamless access to long infrared wavelengths for deepest in vivo imaging (1000 to 1300 nm), and is the only fully integrated turnkey laser product available that is optimized for such tasks. Dispersion compensation ensures high peak at low average powers, and an optional dual-wavelength output offers two beams for multimodal and CARS (coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering) imaging.
Applications: biological imaging, such as two-photon excited fluorescence, second-harmonic generation, third-harmonic generation, multimodal, femtosecond CARS, autofluorescence and two-photon uncaging.
LabSource VBG®-Stabilized Dual Laser Source
Laser-induced fluorescence frequently obscures Raman spectra of many substances, but the dual laser source LabSource allows accurate and consistent subtraction of the fluorescence contribution from the Raman signal, enabling a significantly better signal-to-noise ratio than competing methods. It replaces costly tunable lasers that are the state of the art in shifted excitation Raman difference spectroscopy (SERDS) with highly stable, accurate and affordable volume Bragg grating (VBG)-stabilized laser diodes. It also incorporates a fiber optic switch and shutter, achieving better wavelength and power stability as well as eye-safe operation. The switching time is just 5 ms, and the insertion losses are <1 dB.
Applications: Raman spectroscopy, two-color cytometry, and other life sciences applications that require live tissue or organic matter.
As the first 1-MHz-repetition-rate Ti:sapphire ultrafast regenerative amplifier, the Wyvern X satisfies a demand for very short duration pulses at moderate (up to 20 µJ) pulse energies and the highest possible repetition rate. Marking the first substantial improvement in this product category in nearly two decades, it combines cryogenic cooling technology with advances in pulse switching, and achieves dramatic improvements in power and repetition rate. By using 22 W of CW green pump light to pump a single laser crystal, up to 3.7-W output can be obtained at a repetition rate that can be varied from 50 kHz to 1.7 MHz, all with a 60-fs pulse duration.
Applications: scientific and industrial applications, including ultrafast spectroscopy, microscopy, precision machining and surgery.
Optics and Optical Components
Laser Speckle Reducer
Speckle is one of the biggest roadblocks to lasers becoming the standard light source for projection. Optotune’s Laser Speckle Reducer (LSR) is an extremely compact, low-cost solution for effectively reducing speckle contrast in laser illumination. Although a traditional approach is to use rotating diffusers, the LSR uses electroactive polymers to oscillate a diffuser. A breakthrough in miniaturization, the LSR enables speckle reduction in laser-based pico projectors. This is also one of the first products worldwide to commercialize electroactive polymer technology and the first to combine EAPs – also known as artificial muscles – with optics.
Applications: pico projectors, cinema and business projectors, metrology, microscopy, interferometry and lithography.
These prescription eyeglasses change their optical focusing distance electro-actively, representing the most significant advance in multifocal eyeglasses since Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals in 1784. Because they are electrically controlled, these variable-focus lenses change focus faster than the blink of an eye, without any moving parts and without making a sound. They can be operated manually or automatically. All eyeglasses available today have static focus: Once fabricated, they have a fixed focus. The emPower! uses optics, electronics and chemistry to provide, for the first time, dynamic focus.
Application: vision correction.
Haas Laser Technologies Inc.
Although athermalizing mid- to far-infrared optics in sensor or detector imaging is common, it has never been applied to high-power lasers by athermalizing a laser focusing objective – until now. This high-power laser objective passively compensates for thermal lensing when used with multikilowatt lasers, mitigating it to a few microns. The TLC (thermal lensing compensation) Objective incorporates a balancing of the temperature coefficient of refractive index (dn/dT) between two high-power laser optical materials, the thicknesses, air spacing and curvatures to minimize thermal lensing between 20 and 250 °C, using a proprietary optical design merit function. This means that applications will be in focus from the moment the laser is turned on to when it is turned off; whether in seconds, minutes or hours.
Applications: passively compensates thermal lensing for high-power collimators and focusing lenses.
Detectors, Sensing, Imaging and Cameras
In the past, railway inspections were performed visually, during off-peak traffic hours. Mounted to the front of a high-speed train, T-Sight 5000 allows such inspections to be performed in real time at speeds greater than 300 k/h. The internal architecture of the T-Sight 5000 integrates two systems (clearance gauge measurement and tunnel wall inspection) sharing the same laser illuminating source. The system contains no rotating or moving parts and is the smallest, lightest and most accurate on the market.
Applications: in-depth inspection and analysis of tunnels and clearance profiles on railways.
Vieworks Co. Ltd.
VN Series Camera Link
The VN Series cameras are the only pixel shift digital instruments that achieve up to 142-megapixel resolution. Not only does image resolution increase, but a true color image is realized as well as a 100 percent fill factor. The VN Series cameras offer such ultrahigh resolution (73/96/142 megapixels) by adopting two-dimensional nanostage pixel shift technology. The cameras capture multiple images by mechanically shifting the image sensor in X and Y directions, and combine those images to generate an output image with extended resolution. The most significant benefit of a VN pixel shift camera in comparison with a general fixed sensor camera is its ability to acquire more than four times higher resolution.
Applications: LCD panel inspection, PCB inspection, film/document digitizing.
Measuring just 8 mm thick and 300 mm in diameter, the wafer-shaped airborne particle sensor (APS) is a light-scattering airborne particle counter that travels into a semiconductor fab tool such as a typical wafer and quickly helps isolate sources of particle contamination. The APS validates and analyzes wafer contamination in real time for wafer processing equipment used in the semiconductor market and can detect and count particles as small as 100 nm. The WaferSense APS represents a significant change in particle detection methodology, enabling engineers to monitor and control contamination in their tools and protect die yield with real-time views of particle conditions to address particular areas of concern instead of the whole tool.
Applications: particle contamination detection during semiconductor wafer processing as well as preventive maintenance.
Defense and Security
Headwall Photonics Inc.
The Hyperspec RECON sensor is the first and only handheld hyperspectral sensor built and delivered under contract to the US Department of Defense. It solves the significant problem of providing enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to soldiers for long-distance spectral imaging of potential threats and targets. In 1 to 3 s, the VNIR (380 to 1000 nm) sensor, with its aberration-corrected diffractive optics and custom focal plane array/electronics assembly, can spectrally resolve and rapidly render targets as small as the size of a human face from a distance of one mile. The sensor was designed to address the problem of detecting potential human threats such as snipers at distances that allow for adequate countermeasures.
Applications: forward reconnaissance, ground-based spectral imaging, mobile sensor deployment for base protection, border security and perimeter observation.
Zomega Terahertz Corp.
The handheld Micro-Z is the only untethered handheld terahertz system capable of broadband spectroscopic identification of compounds. The system integrates an ultrafast laser, a terahertz source and terahertz detector into a single battery-operated package to solve the problem of real-time field identification of chemicals such as explosives and related compounds, even in reflection geometry and under covering layers. Previous devices of this type were restricted to the lab or stationary installations, and samples had to be brought to the machine, not the other way around. With its handheld capability, the Micro-Z forces a completely new measurement methodology that compensates for the random motion and sample characteristics found in the real world.
Applications: mobile sensing, including chemical and explosives identification.
Physical Optics Corp. (POC)
Mobile ELISA-Based Pathogen Detection (MEPAD)
Based on a disposable microfluidic chip, this product addresses the need for real-time biohazard identification by replacing a process that requires analytical expertise and laboratory processing with a cost-efficient and fully automated one. A highly sensitive portable fluorescence measurement unit controls the flow of samples and reagents through the chip’s microfluidic channels. The fluorescence detection subsystem is composed of a commercial 635-nm diode laser, an avalanche photodiode that measures fluorescence, and three filtering mirrors that provide more than 100 dB of excitation line suppression in the signal-detection channel. Special techniques to suppress the fluorescence and scattering background allow optimizing the dynamic range for a compact package. Concentrations below 100 ng/ml can be reliably identified.
Application: rapid identification of biohazards.
Life Sciences and Biophotonics
Unlike currently available light sources, such as arc lamps, metal halides or LEDs, the Heliophor’s pumped-phosphor light engine allows production of a wider range of output wavelengths, all matched to common fluorescent proteins and dyes, as well as a straightforward calibration system that ensures that output intensity is consistent across measurements – even those taken weeks or months apart. The product is the first to use phosphors to shift the energy of the pump source to match the fluorescent probes, and its high-speed switching ability afforded by the pump source allows the light source to serve as its own shutter. This means that high-speed live-cell imaging can be done without the need for additional equipment, such as shutters and controllers, or for dedicated microscopy facilities.
Applications: quantitative fluorescence microscopy and multidimensional imaging, such as live-cell imaging and high-throughput screenings.
The OBIS represents a paradigm shift – it is the first visible laser with the operational and integration simplicity of an electronic component. In life sciences, the number of fluorescent assays increases at a rapid rate, and incorporating a new laser wavelength in a test or instrument, or replacing an existing laser, is a complex and time-consuming endeavor. But OBIS is the first self-contained product in which every unit and model has identical beam parameters, irrespective of wavelength, power, even laser technology. It replaces the conventional three-part (controller, umbilical, head) laser architecture and, with an embedded smart controller, is the first laser to offer true plug-and-play functionality. Laser modules can be interchanged in minutes or seconds, rather than hours.
Applications: life sciences, environmental monitoring, inspection and machine vision.
Rebellion Photonics Inc.
The Arrow is the first product that overcomes the sensitivity limitations and image artifacts produced by existing hyperspectral systems that rely on either scanning or computational methods for biomedical imaging. The Arrow provides unparalleled imaging performance because of its “snapshot” advantage – a simple optical system that allows acquisition of all hyperspectral information in a single camera frame. In this mode, all light emitted by the sample is collected and registered at all times. The poor light efficiency of existing products results in phototoxicity effects in cells, making them unsuitable for observing real-time phenomena. By using image mapping spectrometry technology developed at Rice University in Houston, the Arrow has light sensitivity that is orders of magnitude higher than that of existing systems, allowing the observation of cell chemistry as it is happening.
Applications: fluorescence imaging, imaging spectroscopy and computer-aided pathology, among others.
Other Light Sources
In standard LED architecture, phosphor compounds are coated directly onto the chip, resulting in directional, bluish light with restricted end-use applications. With ChromaLit, Intematix removes the compound from the chip, keeping the phosphor performance stable over the lifetime of the LED, while maintaining color consistency and uniformity. ChromaLit deposits the phosphor onto a substrate material that operates remotely from the blue chip. This design shift eliminates the need for a diffuser (which accounts for a 9 percent light loss in conventional LEDs) and achieves 30 percent efficacy gain over conventional white LEDs. It also reduces glare, increases design freedom, and streamlines supply and production of luminaires to enable widespread adoption.
Applications: general and decorative lighting, and specialty lighting applications such as signs and signals.
LUXEON A delivers illumination-grade LED light sources by incorporating thin-film flip-chip technology and unique Lumiramic phosphor technology to target white color point performance. With hot testing and color binning, every LUXEON A is specified at real-world operating conditions (junction temperature 85 °C). This represents a change in behavior from the “semiconductor” mentality to a “lighting” approach. Every LUXEON A LED falls within a single three-step MacAdam ellipse centered on the blackbody curve, eliminating the potential significant differences between color bins. Philips Lumileds is unique in offering a single white die emitter with a single bin selection. The entire production has the same color, so when a customer specifies a CCT of 2700 K, that’s what he/she gets.
Applications: lighting for shop, outdoor, office, school and home.
Ultranarrow Linewidth Laser
This ultranarrow linewidth source, based on a high-quality factor (Q) Whispering Gallery Mode (WGM) microresonator, offers superfine instantaneous and dynamic optical spectral linewidth of less than 300 Hz and ultralow phase/frequency noise in a small form factor. The laser is scalable to a variety of wavelengths in the C- and L-bands. The design is based on the self-injection locking of a suitable commercially available laser diode via a resonant optical feedback from the microresonator. Its monolithically integrated approach, and microscale mass and volume make the laser virtually insensitive to environmental vibrations.
Applications: advanced sensing and detection, monitoring and metrology.
Test, Measurement, Metrology
DynaFiz is a laser-based interferometer system with hardware and software innovations engineered to accurately measure the surface form and transmitted wavefront of optics in the presence of air turbulence and/or extreme vibration. It has an optimized light-efficient optical design and a proprietary high-power stabilized laser that enable high shutter speeds that “freeze” the interference pattern, providing a real-time, continuous display of the measured surface profile. The foundation for this advance is an inventive single-frame data acquisition based on in situ calibration, a custom high-power HeNe laser and advanced, proprietary signal processing. This allows DynaFiz to overcome the problems of conventional solutions involving complex, polarization-sensitive hardware, and provides breakthroughs in capability, performance and flexibility.
Applications: measuring components inside of thermal or vacuum chambers, and measuring or aligning components at astronomical observatories.
This integrated software solution is designed to help photovoltaic cell manufacturers improve production yield, cell efficiency and profitability by allowing them to react in real time to metrology and defectivity excursions. It collects, stores and monitors very large amounts of images, defects and measurement data from KLA-Tencor’s ICOS® PVI-6 solar modules through advanced process control methodologies derived from the semiconductor. FabVision Solar is the first to offer complete data collection from an optical inspection tool set, complemented with other sources of data. It also is the first to deploy real-time as well as off-line defect reduction features, with complete off-line image review capability.
Application: data management and analysis for photovoltaic cell manufacturing.
True Surface Microscopy
Confocal Raman microscopy often is desirable because of its suppression of out-of-focus light, but it can be challenging when analyzing large, rough or inclined surfaces. True Surface Microscopy follows the surface topography with high precision so that even rough or inclined samples always stay in focus while confocal and confocal Raman imaging are performed. To achieve this capability, the topographic coordinates from an integrated profilometer are used to perfectly follow the sample surface in confocal Raman imaging mode. Samples that previously required extensive preparation to obtain a certain surface flatness now can be effortlessly and automatically characterized as they are.
Application: analytical surface inspection.
DFB Laser at 3 µm
Tunable diode laser spectroscopy (TDLS) is a versatile technique for detecting molecular constituents in gas phase. There are many instruments detecting gases such as CO, CO2, H2O, O2, NH3, SO2, and many more in the region between 760 nm and 2.9 µm. This DFB laser source will now enable a new qualitative level of monitoring techniques using TDLS. Customers now can use their established know-how from existing gas measurement systems to develop new instruments for detecting hydrocarbons in the 3- to 3.5-µm region.
Applications: tunable diode laser spectroscopy and hydrocarbon detection.
Green Photonics/Sustainable Energy
P-Ink Displays can show any color in the rainbow with high brightness, low voltage use and no need for color filters, unlike other reflective color displays on the market that suffer from low contrast, that rely on color filters and that have low color performance and high cost. The photonic crystal-based P-Ink technology allows reflected color bands to be tuned over a wide spectral range, from UV to visible colors to near-infrared, and to be produced cost effectively in a roll-to-roll process. This enables a paradigm shift in display construction because every pixel can be any color, as opposed to being fixed as in a traditional RGB display mode, allowing for a much wider and brighter palette. The materials also can be coated onto surfaces of all shapes and sizes.
Application: color reflective displays.
Solar Cogeneration Solution
Cogenra’s hybrid concentrating photovoltaic/thermal solution integrates common silicon photovoltaic cells with an advanced thermal transfer system in a low-cost, scalable design without the massive capital investment typically required in factories. It uses up to 80 percent of the delivered energy, while also cooling the solar cells. Similar hybrid solar heating and electricity systems have failed in the past by overheating the solar cells. By tapping into existing manufacturing infrastructure and fabricating components that are shipped flat from centralized factories (similar to Ikea’s business model), Cogenra’s solution can be scaled and deployed rapidly.
Applications: solar energy generation for electrical and hot water for energy-intensive industrial and institutional sites.
DFB laser at 3 µm
Because of their respective fundamental transitions, many important hydrocarbons could be detected most sensitively between 2.9 and 3.5 µm, a wavelength range where no suitable laser sources have been commercially available – until now. These DFB laser diodes allow such laser sources to be used in sensor systems for the first time.
Applications: tunable diode laser spectroscopy, hydrocarbon detection and environmental monitoring.