DENBIGHSHIRE, North Wales, Sept. 26 -- A £1million ($1.77 million) state-of-the-art optical polishing machine that will help scientists build the next generation of telescopes capable of seeing further into space than ever before has been installed at Technium OpTIC (optoelectronics technology and incubation center), the new facility in St. Asaph Business Park dedicated to the global optoelectronics industry.
The machine -- the only one of its kind in the world -- will allow scientists to shape and polish perfect optical segments of up to 1 m in diameter in an automatic process, hundreds and even thousands of which will be required for future astronomical telescopes such as the European Extremely Large Telescope.
In addition, it will also be able to make and polish other complex shapes, creating possibilities in the manufacture of free-form surfaces for industrial sectors including space and defence optics, aerospace (turbines), medical (knee joints) and semiconductors, among others.
The equipment has been procured from UK manufacturer Zeeko Ltd by the National Centre for Ultra Precision Surfaces Program, which is based at Technium OpTIC. The program is a £4.2 million ($7.4 million) collaborative project led by David Walker from the University College, London; professor Paul Shore from Cranfield University and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at Edinburgh.
"To see other Earth-like planets orbiting around stars will take larger telescopes with better surfaces than those currently available today. The challenge to build the next generation of terrestrial telescopes will require the production of optical surfaces of up to 100 m and will not be feasible without the work going on at the National Centre for Ultra Precision Surfaces at OpTIC. This new machine will be used to develop novel methods to polish the hundreds to thousands of precise mirror segments needed to tile the massive mirrors for these future telescopes," Walker said.
Technium OpTIC is a £15.7 million ($27.8 million) project. Privately managed by Optropreneurs Ltd, it was initiated by the Welsh Optronics Forum and is part of the Technium Wales network, a pan-Wales initiative supported by the Welsh Assembly Government, Welsh Development Agency, European Union funding, the private sector and the higher education institutes of Wales.
Officials say the investment will place the North Wales optoelectronics sector at the leading edge of large diameter optic manufacturing globally and will lead to new employment and investment opportunities in the region as research leads to development and manufacturing opportunities. Optoelectronics are used within a wide range of products, from jet pilot visors to data and audio communications using fiber optics. Other applications include plasma screens, optical storage devices (CD and DVD), laser printers, scanners and digital cameras.