While schools nationwide are welcoming students for the start of the new academic year, we profile three of the country’s top university optics and photonics programs — oldest to newest — that are shaping the future of the photonics industry.
New York, Arizona and Florida boast three of the best optics programs in the U.S. — the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester, the University of Arizona’s College of Optical Sciences, and the College of Optics and Photonics at the University of Central Florida. All are among the top 14 optics programs in the country, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report in 2014.
These programs raise the bar for optics and photonics research, with Rochester’s recent designation as the host site of a new government-funded AIM Photonics institute; Arizona’s decades-long reputation as an innovation front-runner with award-winning students, researchers and industry partners; and Florida’s revolutionary work to advance technology such as flexible displays and solar cells.
The Meinel Optical Sciences Building on the UA Mall features an award-winning expansion built in 2006. Photo courtesy of University of Arizona, College of Optical Sciences.
While the work of the three programs varies, they share a dedication to the future of the industry.
New chapter for oldest optics program
Building on a decades-old reputation of innovative, cutting-edge research and technological advances, the University of Rochester (and its Institute of Optics) has been chosen to host a national photonics institute that could boost America’s technological competitiveness abroad and potentially reduce energy demands from data centers.
“This is one of the most promising areas we could move into, and I can think of no more promising place to do it than here in Rochester,” said Vice President Joe Biden. He traveled to “the optics capital of the world” in July to announce the establishment of the institute. “All the intellectual horsepower we need resides right here.”
The institute, AIM Photonics (American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics), will operate out of multiple locations, including packaging and assembly facilities at Rochester, and fabrication facilities at the State University of New York (SUNY) Polytechnic Institute in Albany. The venture is supported by more than $600 million in federal, state and private funds.
A cutaway lithography lens lit with flashes and green lasers is on display at the University of Rochester. Photo courtesy of J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester.
“It’s a tremendous investment, but it’s not one where we imagine that when the contract is done that we’ll be done,” said Institute Chairman and University of Rochester professor Robert Clark. “What we’re doing is standing up a sustainable operation for the long term.”
AIM’s focus will be on integrated photonics, as well as the development of a standardized platform for photonic integrated circuits. Such work has the potential to speed up communications and could also enable advanced sensors for medical and military applications.
“I believe that this is a transformational event for the Rochester Community,” said Duncan Moore, a professor of optical engineering at Rochester who is involved with the AIM initiative.
The facility will offer open foundry services to photonics researchers around the country, according to Clark. He noted that similar services are already in place at SUNY Polytechnic and the University of Rochester.
University of Arizona PhD student Byron Cocilovo holds an organic solar cell made in professor Robert A. Norwood’s photonics laboratory at OSC. To increase its efficiency, he adds diffraction gratings to its surface. Photo courtesy of Jacob Chinn/University of Arizona Alumni Association.
“We have a great practice in having open facilities, where we work with the federal government and others to develop the facilities that you certainly wouldn’t want to replicate, you want to make available to others,” Clark said. “That’s how you would accelerate the technology development and research. And that’s essentially what the open foundry model is.”
Founded in 1929 with a grant from Kodak and Bausch & Lomb, the Univer-sity of Rochester’s Institute of Optics was the first optics education program in the country. Since then, the institute has conferred more than 2400 degrees — half of all optics degrees awarded nationwide.
The school ranks sixth among the country’s top optics programs, according to a 2014 report by U.S. News and World Report.
The Institute’s Optics Summer Short Course Series — held each year since 1962 — offers courses ranging from fundamentals to advanced topics in optical science and engineering. A summer Photon Camp introduces high school students to the growing field of optics. The weeklong program features faculty lectures, and gives students the opportunity to visit local optics industry sites and work in the Institute’s laboratories.
The University of Rochester Institute of Optics Photon Camp introduces high school students to the growing field of optics. Here, camper Panagiotis Koutsomitopoulus explains differences in illumination and fluorescence among incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent lights and LEDs. Photo courtesy of University of Rochester.
An Industrial Associates Program, offered since 1974, brings together students with companies and corporations for research collaborations and consulting. This is equally beneficial for schools and the industry, as students are exposed to state-of-the-art laboratory instrumentation and technologies.
Notably, in June, researchers at the Institute for the first time demonstrated that defects on an atomically thin 2D semiconductor can produce light-emitting quantum dots. According to the researchers — Chitraleema Chakraborty, Laura Kinnischtzke, Kenneth M. Goodfellow, Ryan Beams and A. Nick Vamivakas — the quantum dots serve as a source of single photons and could be useful for the integration of quantum photonics with solid-state electronics (integrated photonics). “Quantum dots in atomically thin semiconductors could not only provide a framework to explore the fundamental physics of how they interact, but also enable nanophotonics applications,” they said.
Related: Photonics Education: Where is Everybody?
‘Big science’ to benefit the world
The College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona (UA) marked its 50th anniversary last year and, according to the college’s Dean Thomas L. Koch, it “has enjoyed tremendous growth and success by creating a unique, close-knit community of exceptional faculty and students with interests ranging from fundamental physics research to practical solutions in optical engineering and technology.
“OSC eagerly looks forward to the next 50 years of exciting research in areas that we cannot even fathom today,” he said. “And we hope to continue to attract talented students and engage our academic, government and industry partners in discovery, creating new solutions, new products and new enterprises that will benefit the world.”
OSC — established in 1964 as the Optical Sciences Center and renamed in 2005 (while retaining its OSC acronym) — remains diligent in its efforts to build and keep the optics field well-staffed with highly trained engineers and physicists. The school has kept up with evolving technologies and today offers an “internationally pre-eminent program in education, research and outreach in all aspects of the science and application of light.” Fostering “a culture of ‘big science,’” its research and teaching programs have allowed undergraduate and graduate students to work closely and collaboratively with industry and government, and with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.
UA is ranked No. 9 among the top optical programs in the country, according to the U.S. News and World Report in 2014, and second (out of 539 public and private universities) by the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey for R&D expenditures in the physical sciences — astronomy, optics, physics and chemistry; with-in that, the school is ranked No. 1 for astronomy. This is thanks to projects such as fabricating mirrors for the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, as well as developing space cameras for UA’s $800 million OSIRIS-Rex unmanned space mission, set to launch in 2016. Other such work is being done at OSC; namely, shaping and polishing the mirror for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope. When completed, OSC researchers said it will be the largest mirror ever pointed at the sun.
Vast 8.4-meter mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope are fabricated in the University of Arizona’s Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab.
With highly trained faculty, more than 150 course offerings in four core research areas — optical engineering, optical physics, photonics and images science — and a “robust distance learning program featuring approximately 50 courses for … graduate degrees,” OSC’s Information Specialist Coordinator Kristin Waller said that the school has a high employment rate for graduates directly out of all bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs.
UA’s Student Optics Chapter (SOCk) runs a biweekly community speakers lecture series, as well as an annual Laser Fun Day outreach program for local children. And OSC offers a weekly colloquium series — a forum for students and researchers to exchange ideas, techniques and research in all areas of optics with academic scholars and industry leaders.
OSC students and their work are no strangers to recognition, according to Waller. She said that “graduate students regularly win major industry awards,” including the Kidger Memorial Scholarship, Hilbert Memorial Optical Design competition, and NSF, OSA and SPIE scholarships. Undergraduates have won major national STEM awards, such as the Goldwater Scholarship and the Astronaut Scholarship.
University of Arizona professor Hong Hua wears a head-mounted projection display system, which integrates 3D head-tracking sensors and hand-gesture recognition cameras to enable natural navigation and user interaction in augmented reality environments. Photo courtesy of University of Arizona, College of Optical Sciences.
Olivier Guyon, an assistant professor of optical sciences and astronomy, was awarded a $500,000 fellowship from the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. Mac-Arthur Foundation, some of which will be used to fund the effort to bring “the search for exoplanets into the public’s backyard with affordable and easy equipment.”
Other UA faculty enjoy successes, too, with breakthrough research that garners international attention. For example, wearable display technology is of interest to researchers worldwide, including those at Arizona. Among them is professor Hong Hua who, in collaboration with Bahram Javidi of the University of Connecticut, has made investigational advances in this type of technology using freeform optics and integral imaging. In a 2014 Optics Express paper doi: 10.1364/OE.22.013484, the researchers demonstrated a technique that superimposes a 3D image to create an augmented view of the real world. With a 3D presentation of information, eyes will not have to switch between looking at the 3D world and a 2D image. What’s more, the 3D image is created without using stereo depth perception. All of these features should reduce user eyestrain.
At the forefront of innovation: CREOL
The University of Central Florida (UCF) and its College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL) made a bid to host the new AIM Photonics institute. And while this was unsuccessful (awarded instead to Rochester), UCF, including CREOL, remains 14th among the nation’s top graduate optical programs, according to the 2014 ranking by U.S. News and World Report.
CREOL is dedicated to developing new knowledge and innovations “by conducting, presenting and publishing cutting-edge fundamental and applied research,” according to information provided by the school. Researchers there exhibit that dedication with innovative work, including the recent development of an ultrathin, color-changing film that reflects rather than emits light.
A National Geographic photograph of an Afghan girl is used to demonstrate the color-changing abilities of the nanostructured reflective display. Photo courtesy of University of Central Florida.
The flexible display film was created using a simple and inexpensive nanoimprinting technique that can produce a plasmonic nanostructured surface over a large area. According to the researchers (among them, CREOL professor Debashis Chanda), a thin layer of high-birefringence liquid crystal is sandwiched over a metallic nanostructure shaped like an egg carton that absorbs some light wavelengths and reflects others. The colors reflected can be controlled by voltage applied to the liquid crystal layer. Interaction between liquid crystal molecules and plasmon waves on the nanostructured metallic surface play the key role in generating the polarization-independent, full-color tunable display. This development could potentially change the clothing we wear, according to the researchers, and also has implications for existing electronics such as TVs, computers and mobile devices.
In 2014, Chanda led a study aimed at making solar cells lightweight, bendable, more efficient and easily mass-produced. With the creation of large sheets of nano-textured silicon microcell arrays, the researchers used a light-trapping scheme, based on a nanoimprinting technique in which a polymeric stamp mechanically embosses a nanoscale pattern onto the solar cell without additional complex lithographic steps. The findings demonstrated that the researchers’ light-trapping scheme offers higher electrical efficiency in a lightweight, flexible module, according to Chanda, adding that this technology could someday lead to solar-powered homes fueled by cells that are reliable and provide stored energy for hours without interruption.
Also last year, CREOL researchers developed a technique to trigger rain and lightning in clouds with a high-energy laser beam. The researchers discovered that surrounding a laser beam with a second beam creates an energy reservoir that can sustain the central beam over long distances. This second “dress” beam helps prevent the dissipation of the primary, higher-intensity beam. Alone, that primary beam breaks down, limiting its reach.
The work could lead to “ultralong, optically induced filaments or plasma channels that are otherwise impossible to establish under normal conditions,” said Demetrios Christodoulides, a professor at CREOL who assisted with the research. He added that it was possible for the dressed filaments to spread to distances of hundreds of feet. This could also guide microwave signals, as well as long-distance chemical sensors and spectrometers.
CREOL has ties to a number of award-winning, successful scientists and engineers. The 2015 recipient of the SPIE G.G. Stokes Award, Aristide Dogariu, is a professor of optics and photonics at UCF who earned the award for his “development of new theoretical concepts and innovative methods and techniques for understanding and measuring polarization properties of light-matter interaction.”
The works of three current PhD students at CREOL have received recognition with the selection of their work as Distinguished Student Papers by the 2015 Society for Information Display International Symposium — Zhenyue Luo for his paper, High Image-Quality Wearable Displays with Fast-Response Liquid Crystal; Haiwei Chen for his paper, A Fast-Response A-Film Enhanced FFS-LCD; and Yating Gao for her paper, OLED-Like Luminance Distribution.
CREOL’s Industrial Affiliates Program demonstrates its strong partnership with companies, organizations and manufacturers. Industry members include Northrop Grumman, Edmund Optics, Flir, Jenoptik Optical Systems and the Laser Institute of America. The program features symposia on relevant topics such as advances in optics and photonics, innovative technologies for industry, and high-power optical sources for the 21st century. One such symposium was held earlier this year; the event saw industry leaders come together with optics and photonics students and researchers for short courses, poster sessions, technical exhibits and lab tours. A public lecture, “Evolving Lasers to Solve Problems,” was also held.
Established in 1987 as the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers, CREOL aims to be “an intellectual, scientific and technical resource to the optics and photonics industry.” From lasers, optical fibers, semiconductor and integrated photonics, to nonlinear and quantum optics, and imaging, sensing and displays, CREOL centers around research and applications in industry and manufacturing, communications and information technology, as well as biology and medicine, and energy and defense. Now, CREOL cites nanophotonics, attosecond optics, plasmonics and biophotonics as “areas of strength and planned future growth.”
University of Rochester, Institute of Optics
Rochester has been chosen to host AIM Photonics (American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics), as well as a packaging and assembly facility. www.photonics.com/Article.aspx?PID=6&VID=124&IID=830&AID=57599 (Report by Photonics Media).
University of Arizona, College of Optical Sciences
• The college celebrated 50 years in 2014
• Ranked ninth among the country’s top optics programs
• Students are eligible for numerous major industry awards: Kidger Memorial Scholarship; Hilbert Memorial Optical Design competition; NSF, OSA and SPIE scholarships; Goldwater Scholarship; and the Astronaut Scholarship
University of Central Florida, College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL)
Researchers leading innovation:
Professor Debashis Chanda
• “Flexible Film Creates Colors from Reflected Light,” www.photonics.com/Article.aspx?PID=6&VID=124&IID=822&AID=57536 (Report by Photonics Media)
• “Tapping Solar’s Full Potential,” www.photonics.com/Article.aspx?PID=5&VID=116&IID=748&AID=55933 (Report by Photonics Media)
Professor Demetrios Christodoulides
• “Two-Stage Laser Could Make Rain, Lightning,” www.photonics.com/Article.aspx?PID=6&VID=120&IID=753&AID=56102 (Report by Photonics Media)
Dr. Martin C. Richardson, trustee chair of UCF and a professor of optics and photonics
• Participant in a 2011 webinar hosted by Photonics Media, “The Future of Lasers: Two Perspectives” www.photonics.com/Webinar.aspx?WID=9.