Optical Surface Technologies

by George Zamora

SOCORRO, N.M., Jan. 10, 2007 – A partnership forged a little over four years ago between New Mexico Tech and Muniz Engineering, Inc. of Houston then resulted in the creation of Optical Surface Technologies, L.L.C. (OST), a high-tech optics research and manufacturing center in Albuquerque.

That university/business partnership has now been further bolstered with the recent signing of contract between the research university in Socorro and OST that tasks the Albuquerque firm to fabricate and coat the specialized optical components that will be used at Tech’s Magdalena Ridge Observatory (MRO) research project.

OST will specifically work on the optical systems associated with MRO’s moveable array of telescopes that will be linked together with computers to form a single optical interferometer.

“The awarding to OST of this $2.75 million contract to build six 1.4-meter-diameter primary mirrors over 39 months exemplifies the confidence that New Mexico Tech has in OST producing large telescope optics,” says Reed A. Schmell, OST president.

“Previously, this type of work for the manufacturing of large optics of this magnitude would go to firms either on the East or West coasts, or even possibly to Europe or Russia,” adds Schmell.

However, when optics contracts leave the United States and are shipped overseas, the customer loses control of scheduling and delivery, Schmell asserts.

“The awarding of this contract to a New Mexico company will enable New Mexico Tech and MRO to directly interface with their telescope manufacturer and will allow OST to provide other services and support the university researchers may need,” Schmell says. “This is also the type of high-tech business that economic developers are promoting in New Mexico.”

MRO, a $50 million federally funded astronomical research facility located near the summit of the Magdalena Mountains in south-central New Mexico, includes two distinct facilities — a single, fast-tracking 2.4-meter-diameter telescope and a linked array of smaller telescopes. The 2.4-meter telescope received “first light” this past October, while the first-phase of the interferometer project is scheduled to be completed around Fall 2007.

“The formal signing of this agreement between New Mexico Tech and OST is important in a number of ways, not the least of which is that the university has gotten the valuable experience of spinning off of a high-tech company,” says David Westpfahl, chief project scientist for the MRO interferometer.

“Of particular importance to the MRO is that our project will now get exactly the precise optical components that are required, and we’ll be able to get them made here in New Mexico,” Westpfahl adds.

In addition, Westpfahl, who is also a physics professor at New Mexico Tech, points out that many of the university’s students will also stand to benefit from the newly forged agreement between the university and OST through resultant internships and research experiences.

OST was established in 2004 in collaboration with the New Mexico Tech Research Park Corporation, a non-profit umbrella organization affiliated with the state research university in Socorro, and MEI Technologies, a nationally recognized aerospace and integration company which is headquartered in Houston and maintains offices throughout the United States, including New Mexico.

Since then, the Albuquerque optics research and manufacturing center has developed extensive capabilities that include optical systems design and optimization, complete “start-to- finish” fabrication and metrology of optical components (from .3 to 3 meters in size), full-range coating capacity, and completespectral performance testing.