New university/industry partnership to advance freeform optics

July 29, 2013
Rochester, NY--A new center led by the University of Rochester (U of R) will receive over $4 million in combined federal, industry, and academic funding to advance the emerging area of freeform optics.

Rochester, NY--A new center led by the University of Rochester (U of R) will receive more than $4 million in combined federal, industry, and academic funding to advance the emerging area of freeform optics. The Center for Freeform Optics (CeFO) brings together two universitiesthe U of R, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), along with industry partners.

Because freeform optics are not limited to spherical shapes (or even rotationally symmetric aspherical shapes), they have to potential to transform the field of optics, if the cost and complexity of freeform-optics design and fabrication is reduced. Although the production of freeform surfaces became possible just a few years ago, researchers have already identified broad applications, including mobile displays, LED lighting, remote sensing devices, astronomical instrumentation, smart glasses, and other devices and systems.

“Freeform optics research is applied research and is best done in collaboration with industrythe new center will make this possible,” said Jannick Rolland, director of the center and the Brian J. Thompson Professor of Optical Engineering at the U of R. Rolland also stressed the role that the center will play in educating optics graduate students. “Innovation in this area will require industry to have well-trained employees who can understand the fundamental research and also how to apply it.”

The Rochester team pioneered the theoretical framework to describe this new type of optics by understanding how these surfaces guide light in not one dimension, but three dimensions. This is an essential step in guiding the design of any freeform system, which together with fabrication and metrology will constitute the focus of the center.

The center will draw upon expertise in a wide range of areas, including mathematics, optics, materials science, and instrument design to support what is considered precompetitive researchapplied research that is still not product-ready, but is an essential step to any future technology in this field.

Five-year grant

A five-year grant, starting on August 1, 2013, from the NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program will provide seed funding to both universities to enable industry/university-partnered approaches to emerging research areas. CeFO has also secured partnerships from nine companies, each contributing $48,000 per year towards this collaborative effort. The company and other organization members of the center are: the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. (Broomfield, CO), NASA Goddard, OptiPro Systems (Rochester), PolymerPlus (Valley View, OH), Rochester Precision Optics (RPO), Sandia National Laboratories, SCHOTT North America, and ZYGO Corporation.

The formation of the center was seeded in a collaboration with the Optical Society of America (OSA) through a first incubator meeting in freeform optics held in Washington D.C., Nov. 2011, which gathered more than 50 scientists and engineers from academia, industry, and government laboratories. Many more will gather again at the upcoming OSA Topical Meeting on Freeform Optics starting on Nov. 4, 2013 in Tucson, AZ.

The eight faculty members from Rochester who participated in the formation of the center focus on the design and metrology of freeform optics. Graduate students will be an integral part of the center, and Rolland will start working on creating opportunities for the involvement of undergraduate students in this collaborative research venture. She plans to create synergy with the R.E. Hopkins Center, which she also heads and which is dedicated to teaching undergraduate students to design and build optical systems.

The Rochester team consists of Rolland, Associate Center Director John Lambropoulos, Miguel Alonso, and Jim Fienup from the Institute of Optics, Stephen Burns and Jon Ellis from Mechanical Engineering, Stephen Jacobs from the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE), and Kevin Thompson from Synopsys, Inc. and visiting scientist at the university, who was recently awarded the Conrady medal by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, for work on the aberration theory of rotationally nonsymmetric systems; this work serves today as the foundation of the aberration theory of freeform optics recently developed at the University of Rochester.

The six-member UNCC team will focus on fabrication and metrology.

Rolland was funded by Empire State Development Division of Science, Technology, & Innovation under its Faculty Development Award program from 2009 to 2013.

About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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