News Briefs

Chemical weapons

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL; Richland, WA) has received a four-year, $12.5 million contract from the U.S. Defense Advance Research Projects Agency to develop laser-based chemical weapon sensors. PNNL and subcontractors at Princeton, Rice, and Utah State universities, Maxion Technologies, and Eigenvector Research will develop laser technology, build a prototype sensor, and test it at government proving grounds.

PNNL’s sensor concept employs pulsed lasers to sample air flowing through tiny quartz tuning forks akin to the crystals in watches. Each laser will operate at a different infrared wavelength that is absorbed by one or more chemical weapons. If a chemical weapon is present, absorption of the laser light will cause an acoustic disturbance that excites vibrations in a tuning fork. Because quartz is a piezo-electric material, the tuning fork will convert the vibrations into an electrical signal. PNNL plans to use quantum cascade lasers (QCLs), which are small, light, and rugged enough for use in combat. However, the PNNL team must develop QCLs that operate at room temperature with adequate power and efficiency.

Minority investment

B&W TEK (Newark, DE), a manufacturer of analytical spectrometers, spectroscopic lasers, medical lasers, and other industrial instrumentation, announced today that it has received a minority investment from Summit Partners, a leading private equity and venture capital firm with more than $5.5 billion in capital under management. This funding will enable B&W TEK to focus on growth through its existing customers and products while also expanding into new applications and markets.

Cutting back

Three-Five Systems (Tempe, AZ), a manufacturer of custom displays and display systems using LCD and LCoS microdisplay technology, is planning a number of actions to reduce operating costs and excess manufacturing capacity. TFS said it will work throughout early 2005 to relocate its corporate headquarters from Tempe, AZ, to Redmond, WA, where the company currently conducts its low-volume electroinc manufacturing services (EMS) and prototype and medical manufacturing operations. All TFS corporate functions, including finance and accounting, human resources and information technology, will eventually be located in the Washington facility. TFS will maintain several sales, marketing and engineering support centers throughout the US, including Arizona. The company is also exploring opportunities to consolidate its offshore operations. In a move to consolidate manufacturing operations and reduce excess factory capacity, TFS is exploring the potential sale of its Manila, Philippines factory.

Photomask production

DuPont Photomasks (Round Rock, TX) today announced that it has expanded photomask production capacity at its facility in Singapore in response to growing demand from Asia-Pacific semiconductor markets. The company said it has added a laser pattern generator line and inspection and support equipment for volume production of photomasks, increasing capacity at the 5-year-old facility by approximately 25%.

Thin-film market

According to a soon-to-be-released report from Business Communications Company, Inc. (www.bccresearch.com) RGB-300 Thin Films: Raw Materials, Technologies and Applications, the worldwide market for thin film raw materials is estimated at $7.1 billion in 2004 and is projected to reach $13.5 billion by 2009, rising at a healthy AAGR (average annual growth rate) of 13.7%. According to BCC, thin-film technologies continue to evolve and their use is broadening. In fact, with the growing need for component and assembly miniaturization, well-established thick-film processes are rapidly approaching their technological limits. As a result, more and more manufacturers of electronic, mechanical, chemical, optical, and energy-supply devices are now considering replacing conventional thick-film processes with thin-film technologies to manufacture smaller components and parts.

DIAL optics

Optical Surfaces Ltd. (Surrey, England) has been selected to supply key optics for an advanced Differential Absorption Lidar (DIAL) instrument that is being developed for the UK National Physical Laboratory. The DIAL instrument will be set up to provide an aircraft measurement platform for use by all the UK atmospheric research community. The new downward facing DIAL instrument is intended to allow measurement of vertical profiles of ozone, water vapour and particulates above and below the aircraft. Based upon a Dall-Kirkham Cassegrain telescope design, Optical Surfaces Ltd. has been contracted to produce the principal light collecting optics for the return beam of the LIDAR system. The compact f-2 optics will be of 410mm diameter and have cone-shaped backs to reduce weight.

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