MRF shows that innovation is the norm in optics

Aug. 6, 2013
Like magnetorheological finishing before it, freeform optics will benefit from a public-private partnership.
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Although not a major announcement in terms of funding, the new Center for Freeform Optics is major news indeed. Using $4 million from federal, industry, and academic sources, the Center brings together the University of Rochester, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, several government labs, and six optics companies. Freeform optics are not limited to spherical--or even rotationally symmetric aspherical--shapes and have the potential to transform the field of optics if the cost of design and fabrication can be reduced.

Such public-private partnerships are now common in research centers around the world, and are part of both the plans of the Photonics21 community in Europe and the U.S. National Photonics Initiative.

The partnership concept has deep roots, as I was reminded recently when I visited an optics manufacturing facility and saw a magnetorheological finishing (MRF) machine, which has had a significant impact on the polishing precision that can be achieved in optical manufacturing. It was first invented by academic researchers in Belarus in the 1980s, further developed by a team associated with the University of Rochester Center for Optics Manufacturing with U.S. Army funding, and launched as a commercial product by QED Technologies in 1998. For a great history of the commercialization of MRF, appearing on the NY Photonics website, read this article.

If you trace back far enough, most of the technologies and products to be found on the Laser Focus World website have heritages that include some mix of academia, industry, and government support. We need to continue this tradition of partnership—it is a well-established and successful means of advancing technology, developing important products, and delivering new applications and benefits to the world.

About the Author

Conard Holton | Editor at Large

Conard Holton has 25 years of science and technology editing and writing experience. He was formerly a staff member and consultant for government agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and engineering companies such as Bechtel. He joined Laser Focus World in 1997 as senior editor, becoming editor in chief of WDM Solutions, which he founded in 1999. In 2003 he joined Vision Systems Design as editor in chief, while continuing as contributing editor at Laser Focus World. Conard became editor in chief of Laser Focus World in August 2011, a role in which he served through August 2018. He then served as Editor at Large for Laser Focus World and Co-Chair of the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar from August 2018 through January 2022. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, with additional studies at the Colorado School of Mines and Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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