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New Center to Advance Freeform Optics

Photonics.com
Aug 2013
ROCHESTER, N.Y., Aug. 2, 2013 — More than $4 million in federal, industry and academic funding aims to advance freeform optics through a new center led by the universities of Rochester and North Carolina.

The emerging, transformative area of freeform optics could allow for a wider range of lens and mirror shapes, which until recently have mostly been limited to spherical ones, and for more targeted applications, the university said. Although the production of freeform surfaces became possible just a few years ago, a broad range of applications has been identified, including mobile displays, LED lighting, remote sensing devices and astronomical instrumentation.

The Center for Freeform Optics (CeFO) brings the University of Rochester and University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) together with industry partners to advance freeform optics research as a basis for innovation, demonstrate the innovation for state-of-the-art optical systems, and educate the next generation’s workforce. The center will draw upon expertise in a wide range of areas, including mathematics, optics, materials science and instrument design to support what is considered precompetitive research — applied research that is still not product-ready.

Jannick Rolland works with a graduate student on a freeform lens experiment.
Jannick Rolland works with a graduate student on a freeform lens experiment. Courtesy of J. Adam Fenster, University of Rochester.

A five-year grant that started on Aug. 1 from the NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program is providing seed funding. CeFO has also secured partnerships from nine companies, each contributing $48,000 per year: Air Force Research Laboratory, Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., NASA Goddard, OptiPro Systems, PolymerPlus, Rochester Precision Optics, Sandia National Laboratories, Schott North America, and Zygo Corp.

“Freeform optics research is applied research and is best done in collaboration with industry — the new center will make this possible,” said Jannick Rolland, director of the center and the Brian J. Thompson Professor of Optical Engineering at Rochester. Rolland also stressed the role that the center will play in educating optics graduate students. “Innovation in this area will require industry to have well-trained employees who can understand the fundamental research and also how to apply it.”

The eight faculty members from Rochester who participated in the formation of the center (Rolland, associate center director John Lambropoulos, Miguel Alonso and Jim Fienup from the Institute of Optics; Stephen Burns and Jon Ellis from Mechanical Engineering; Stephen Jacobs from the Laboratory for Laser Energetics; and visiting scientist Kevin Thompson from Synopsys Inc.) focus on the design and metrology of freeform optics. Graduate students will be an integral part of the center, and Rolland will start working on creating opportunities for the involvement of undergraduate students in this collaborative research venture. She plans to create synergy with the R.E. Hopkins Center, which she also heads and which is dedicated to teaching undergraduate students to design and build optical systems.

The six-member UNCC team will focus on fabrication and metrology.

The center’s formation was seeded in a collaboration with The Optical Society (OSA) through a first incubator meeting in freeform optics held in Washington, D.C., in November 2011 that gathered over 50 scientists and engineers from academia, industry and government laboratories. Many more will gather again at the upcoming OSA Topical Meeting on Freeform Optics starting on Nov. 4 in Tucson, Ariz.

For more information, visit: www.rochester.edu


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