2010 Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation: The Finalists
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:
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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, 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 (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)
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
Information and Communication
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
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.