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Prism Awards Finalists Offer Solutions to Big Problems

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Finalists include tools for manufacturing, brain imaging, pollution monitoring and more

Melinda A. Rose, [email protected] , and Laura S. Marshall, Managing Editor, [email protected]

Sensors for monitoring environmental toxins and detecting explosives, powerful new lasers for biophotonics, and tools for lithography and spectroscopy are among the finalists for the 2013 Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation, the global competition sponsored by Photonics Media, publisher of Photonics Spectra, and SPIE.

Winners will be announced by industry leaders on Feb. 6 during SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco.

2013 Prism Awards finalists, by category

Defense and Security
Company: OEwaves* (California, US)
Product: Micro-Opto Electronic Oscillator (µOEO)

At the heart of the µOEO is a whispering gallery mode optical microresonator with a tiny (~1 mm) footprint that generates signals with superlow phase noise in the micro- and millimeter-wave frequencies used by the military. This enables significant performance improvement in advanced radar and signal intelligence systems as unmanned military platforms such as UAVs and missiles get ever smaller. The µOEO’s photonics platform achieves capabilities that electronic approaches cannot, at a size no electronic system can match.

Company: P&P Optica (Ontario, Canada)
Product: The PPO HyperChannel

The transmission gel gratings in the PPO HyperChannel optical spectrometer deliver the highest efficiency in sorting light into individual wavelengths and have a signal-to-noise ratio greater than 100,000:1. Also, up to 200 separate channels are possible, enabling applications not possible with any other system (currently, the maximum number of channels available with other multichannel spectroscopy systems is eight). The PPO HyperChannel allows for simultaneous multipoint data collection without sacrificing spectral resolution, ideal for highly dynamic, fast-changing substances in applications such as the spatial monitoring of tissue oxygenation and high-speed hyperspectral imaging for explosives detection.

Company: Thermo Scientific Portable Analytical Instruments* (Massachusetts, US)
Product: TruNarc

The TruNarc is a handheld Raman analyzer for rapid spectroscopic identification of suspected narcotics without the need for direct contact with most samples. It provides faster, more accurate, nondestructive identification of multiple liquid and solid narcotics than the chemical color tests it supplants. Law enforcement can field-test suspected substances through plastic or glass, minimizing exposure and preserving evidence integrity.

Detectors, Sensing, Imaging and Cameras

Company: Princeton Instruments* (New Jersey, US)
Product: IsoPlane SCT spectrograph

Through its use of proprietary optics and a novel optomechanical design, the IsoPlane SCT (Schmidt-Czerny-Turner) improves upon the traditional Czerny-Turner-type spectrograph, which, despite being limited by the age-old design’s inherent image aberrations, is still the most commonly used research instrument in dispersive optical spectroscopy. Its novel optical design provides the ability to use the full spatial extent of their detector without loss of spectral or spatial resolution, and it provides the only major innovation to the design of research-grade imaging spectrographs in more than 20 years.

Company: Specim, Spectral Imaging Ltd. (Oulu, Finland)
Product: AisaFENIX

The AisaFENIX imager is the first commercial full-spectrum (380 to 2500 nm) push-broom hyperspectral imager that collects full VNIR (visible and near-infrared) and (SWIR) short-wavelength infrared) data in a single data cube with co-registered pixels. Until now, the best available full-spectrum solutions have incorporated two separate hyperspectral imagers aligned for parallel fields of view. This results in complex, bulky systems where the pixel registration between VNIR and SWIR varies with distance to the target, complicating data processing. The AisaFENIX is 75 percent smaller and less weighty (15 kg) than other imagers, fitting in turrets and UAVs. It is also suitable for a broad range of industrial and research applications such as mineral mapping, vegetation research and environmental analysis.

Company: Wasatch Photonics* (North Carolina, US)
Product: Stroker f/1.3

The Stroker f/1.3 is a unique lens-based spectrograph with optics that gather 10 times more light than standard designs. That, coupled with a high efficiency and high-dispersion volume phase holographic (VPHG) transmission grating, optimizes both optical resolution and signal level. The result is a miniature, portable Raman spectrometer with a performance equal to that of large research-grade benchtop spectrometers for applications such as fluorescence, optical coherence tomography, laser characterization and astronomy.

Green Photonics

Company: AdTech Optics* (California, US)
Product: DFB QCL 783

The DFB QCL 783 is a single-mode, high-power quantum cascade laser at 7.83 µm for high-sensitivity detection of critical greenhouse gases. The laser is capable of 280-mW continuous output power at room temperature in a single mode and with an excellent beam quality, at a wavelength previously unattainable with a semiconductor device. It allows parts-per-billion-level detection of methane and nitrous oxide for applications such as pollution monitoring and emissions control, among others.

Company: Visualant Inc. (Washington, US)
Product: ChromaID

The ChromaID tests virtually any product, material, liquid, gas, aerosol or color using spectral pattern matching technology to record and analyze invisible chromatic identifiers in a compact, field-ready, low-cost product. Because of its multispectrum abilities and small size, it is more cost-effective and versatile than other spectrometers. Patterns of a light spectrum signature, from near-UV through the visible spectrum and into the near-infrared, are collected from the structured light transmission of 36 LEDs. Pattern samples are compared with an existing database stored in the cloud, and a Bluetooth interface allows the ChromaID to communicate with smartphones for field testing.

Company: Leosphere (Orsay, France)
Product: R-MAN510

The R-MAN510, with its Raman and dual-polarized channels, combines the full performances of sophisticated research lidar with the compactness and low maintenance requirements of cloud ceilometers. This eye-safe, networkable instrument provides real-time detection and classification of atmospheric structures and hazards, such as ash from volcanic eruptions, or dust, biomass particles or soot, without requiring the user to have scientific expertise. The R-MAN510 emits in the UV (355 nm) with a low-energy, low-maintenance diode-pumped tripled Nd:YAG laser.

Industrial Lasers

Company: Aerotech* (Massachusetts, US)
Product: Nmark AGV and Nmark CLS

Nmark AGV galvanometers use innovative optical feedback technology to increase resolution to greater than 24 bits, compared with the 16 or 20 bits achieved by other high-end scanners for laser micromachining applications. When driven by the Nmark CLS galvo controller, AGV series scanners offer advanced application tools to ensure consistent laser spot placement and fast scanner positioning over the entire servo travel area. The result is a significant improvement in accuracy: A 100-mm focal length lens has 2-D positioning accuracies of 10 µm or better.

Company: IPG Photonics* (Massachusetts, US)
Product: GLR-100

The GLR-100, with its single-mode, single-frequency ytterbium fiber laser pump source, brings all the advantages of reliable and affordable fiber laser technology to a CW green laser market currently dominated by solid-state and gas lasers. With an output power in excess of 100 W (competing systems average 20 to 25 W maximum) and excellent beam quality, it is well suited for emerging industrial applications that require high-power green laser sources. Because of the combination of high wall-plug efficiency (20% to 25%) and 90% SHG efficiency, the laser requires no water cooling for either the 1064-nm pump module or the laser head.

Company: TeraDiode (Massachusetts, US)
Product: TeraBlade 2-kW high-brightness direct-diode laser

With its wavelength beam-combining (WBC) technology developed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, TeraDiode’s TeraBlade combines the output of any number of laser emitters, of any type, wavelength or power, into a single incoherent laser beam while retaining the brightness of the original emitters. The result is an order of magnitude improvement in brightness compared with a single source – high enough to allow direct-diode lasers to cut and weld steel in industrial applications for the first time. WBC direct-diode lasers also are four times more efficient than CO2 and at least 33% more efficient than 1-µm lasers, meaning reduced cost, size and power consumption.

Life Sciences and Biophotonics

Company: Femtolasers Produktions GmbH (Vienna)
Product: Integral Core

Integral Core is the first ultrafast Ti:sapphire turnkey laser to defy the idea that such lasers must be bulky, heavy and expensive. Weighing less than 4 kg, it is the first hand-portable Ti:sapphire laser to combine a small femtosecond light source with very short (<20 fs) laser pulses to fill the gap of a long-missing lighting tool for most femtosecond laser applications in biophotonics, such as multiphoton microscopy, optical coherence tomography or terahertz imaging or spectroscopy.

Company: Olympus America* (Massachusetts, US)
Product: Scaleview objectives

Scaleview microscope objectives allow biologists to see far deeper into the brain – a densely tangled mass of millions of connections – than ever possible before, to better map it and understand its functions. The two microscope objectives, when used with a specific reagent, enable bright imaging up to 4 mm and 8 mm deep; both are designed to boost the capability of multiphoton and confocal microscopy. The new objectives also are appropriate imaging tools for biologists who need to see entire organs, systems or embryos intact to better understand the mechanisms of development.

Company: Verisante Technology (British Columbia, Canada)
Product: Aura

Traditional skin cancer diagnosis involves a visual exam followed by an invasive, expensive and time-consuming biopsy. But Aura allows Raman-based disease detection to move to the doctor’s office for the first time. Aura images biochemical changes quickly (within 1 s) and noninvasively using a near-infrared (785 nm) laser beam. And, unlike other optical devices for skin cancer detection, it does not use visual characteristics to assess skin lesions – it actually scans the biochemical constituents of the skin based on molecular vibrations. Aura’s underlying technology also has shown great promise in the early detection of other cancers, including that of the lung, cervix and colon.


Company: AFL* (South Carolina, US)
Product: LZM-100 LAZERMaster

The LZM-100 LAZERMaster produces a clean and stable heat source via a CO2 laser to perform splicing, adiabatic tapering, lensing or other glass-shaping operations. The proprietary feedback system enables custom laser beam size, shape and power, while the proprietary software provides additional glass-shaping control and measurement. A clean, deposit-free fiber surface and consistent results are essential in high-power fiber lasers and power delivery systems, particularly in the medical, military and defense, and industrial markets. The LZM possesses large-diameter capabilities up to 2.3 mm and long tapering capabilities up to 150 mm.

Company: Heidelberg Instruments (Heidelberg, Germany)
Product: µPG501 direct write lithography system

The µPG501 is a desktop maskless aligner lithography tool that can write small patterns into photoresists without using a photomask – allowing the user to go directly from design to imaging on the substrate. The current standard process is to have a photomask made and to transfer the pattern to the substrate (i.e., a silicon wafer) with the help of a mask aligner, a time-consuming and expensive process. But the µPG501 enables a direct-write lithography tool in every lab at low cost and can replace the traditional mask aligner. It is also a complementary solution to existing aligners because it can be used to fabricate photomasks.

Company: Parian Technologies (Massachusetts, US)
Product: Archetto 3

The Archetto 3 is a tabletop interference lithography system that requires no vibration isolation for making nanostructures used in photonics, photovoltaics and tissue engineering. Traditional tools for electron beam lithography – the most widely used nanofabrication system – are large and can cost more than $1 million and require extensive training before use. With the compact Archetto 3, Parian Technologies has removed the barriers to nanofabrication by making use of two key enabling innovations to simplify and scale down the tool: a low-cost blue laser diode as the optical source and a proprietary spatial filtering approach. The result is a compact, easy-to-use system that produces periodic nanostructures with pitch as small as 230 nm for less than one-third the cost.

Optics and Optical Components

Company: Tag Optics* (New Jersey, US)
Product: Tag Lens 2.0

The Tag Lens 2.0, developed at Princeton University, uses sound to shape light. The result is an ultrahigh-speed device that can extend the depth of field of conventional optics or provide user-specified focal lengths with submicrosecond resolution; with no moving parts, that is orders of magnitude faster than other adaptive liquid lenses. The tunable gradient index of refraction device exhibits aspherical wavefronts with low spherical aberrations for emerging applications in industrial and biomedical imaging, laser microprocessing and metrology, and it is compatible with either pulsed or CW light sources.

Company: TelAztec (Massachusetts, US)
Product: Anti-Reflection Microstructures (ARMs)

The use of antireflection microstructures (ARMs) etched or replicated directly onto the surface of a material eliminates the need for a thin-film coating and provides unprecedented optical performance. It also dramatically improves bandwidth, angular performance, laser damage threshold levels and durability. The surface textures, each with unique characteristics and optical properties that can be tailored for specific materials and applications in the UV, visible spectrum and IR, can be incorporated directly into existing manufacturing processes. Although the first commercial ARMs textures are for photovoltaics, others in development include high-laser-damage-threshold optics, rifle scope optics, display covers and imaging optics.

Company: Tornado Spectral Systems* (New York, US)
Product: HyperFlux VIS-NIR multimode spectrometer

The HyperFlux, a VIS-NIR multimode spectrometer, replaces a traditional slit with a proprietary High Throughput Virtual Slit to reformat the beam within a spectrometer. This allows spot size and f ratio to be changed independently, eliminating the traditional trade-off between spectral resolution and optical throughput and delivering high-photon throughput. The HyperFlux “slices” and reformats the pupil in a new way that is optically efficient and can be made using off-the-shelf components. It dramatically improves the quality of spectra collec ted and greatly shortens integration times, and it can even boost the performance of a standard fiber-bundle spot-to-line converter.

Scientific Lasers

Company: Continuum* (California, US)
Product: Horizon OPO

The Horizon is a unique oscillator with a sophisticated cavity design and optimized optical configuration that generates an efficiency greater than 40 percent. It also provides narrow linewidth, excellent beam quality and an unprecedented gap-free tuning range from 192 to 2750 nm (vacuum UV). With its wider tuning range (it uses Pellin Broca prisms rather than dichroics to facilitate interruption-free access to the entire range), the Horizon OPO opens possibilities for new applications. New direct-drive digital motors ensure linear and fine-controlled scanning and eliminate all backlash for bidirectional scanning with unmatched precision and accuracy.

Company: Femtolasers Produktions GmbH (Vienna)
Product: Femtosource rainbow CEP4

The CEP4 is a carrier-envelope (CE) phase stabilization module based on the feed-forward technique, designed as an add-on for the Femtosource rainbow line of ultrafast oscillators. Traditional CE phase stabilization uses feedback loops, resulting in a trade-off between reliability and precision. But the CEP4’s feed-forward CE phase-stabilization system, based on an invention made at the Max Born Institute group of G. Steinmeyer, provides unmatched precision with drastically improved reliability for new experiments in ultrafast science and spectroscopy. The innovative CEP4, however, uses an acousto-optic frequency shifter to “subtract” the value of the CE offset of the free-running oscillator from every single-frequency comb mode. The result is a comb with zero offset.

Company: Insight Photonic Solutions* (Colorado, US)
Product: Advanced OCT swept tunable laser

The Insight takes tunable swept lasers into the all-semiconductor realm to change the future of imaging by attaining the speeds and performance required for OCT. Insight’s swept laser is entirely akinetic (no movement in the tuning mechanism), with the entire optical cavity, gain and amplification contained within a single tiny semiconductor chip. This results in better optical performance, higher speed, more operating control and lower cost than mechanical solutions for swept lasers, the most promising of which are based on MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology.

Test, Measurement, Metrology

Company: KMLabs* (Colorado, US)
Product: Chromatis

The Chromatis, an optically calibrated scanning white-light interferometer, is the first optical test instrument that takes dispersion characterization out of the research lab and onto the production floor. It accurately and reliably measures GDD (group delay dispersion) and higher-order dispersion (TOD, FOD; third-order and fourth-order dispersion, respectively), the careful management of which is critical for the optimal performance of ultrafast laser systems, multilayer mirrors and multiple-quantum-well structures.

Company: Linden Photonics (Massachusetts, US)
Product: Lindex Optics Cleaners

The innovative carbon nanotube-based cleaning material Lindex makes fiber optic cleaning tools as sophisticated as the high-tech equipment they clean. It exploits van der Waals forces – the same forces that allow a gecko’s feet to stick to slick walls with the aid of tiny microhairs and to allow contamination such as carbon and oils to stick to the cleaners at a molecular level. Lindex represents the first innovation in cleaning materials for optics, providing a twentyfold improvement over cotton- and foam-based materials and eliminating cross-contamination and the need for postcleaning inspection. It is a dry adhesive material that can be used with or without solvents.

Company: Resolution Spectra Systems (Meylan, France)
Product: Zoom Spectra

With its SWIFTS technology, the Zoom Spectra takes a principle confined to photography for more than 100 years and incorporates it into optronics. It is the first high-performance spectrometer to offer access to ultrahigh spectral resolution (5 pm at 630 nm), on simultaneous bandwidths of 5 to 14 nm, with a high rate capability of up to 30 kfps. These features make it ideal for monitoring laser emission (continuous or pulsed) and for discriminating modes or physical phenomena that conventional spectrometers do not resolve.

* Meet the finalists

Many Prism Awards finalists will be in the Photonics West exhibition (Feb. 5 to 7) and BiOS Expo (Feb. 2 to 3); see the asterisks in the article. Visit for complete details.

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2013
The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
hyperspectral imaging
Methods for identifying and mapping materials through spectroscopic remote sensing. Also called imaging spectroscopy; ultraspectral imaging.
The science of measurement, particularly of lengths and angles.
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