Right: Gary Loos, an optical scientist with New Mexico Tech's Magdalena Ridge Observatory, who also is currently serving as principal investigator of the CIAO project.
by George Zamora
SOCORRO, N.M., Sept. 28, 2006 – While “adaptive optics” isn’t yet a household word, most people would be surprised to discover just how much of a major role the burgeoning technology is expected to soon play in common applications and products such as high-speed communications, high-powered lasers, chemical analyzers, and imaging systems.
Adaptive optics technology commonly uses “flexible mirrors” that can be electronically controlled and adjusted to compensate, correct, and refine optical systems in telescopes, microscopes, or cameras to produce sharply defined images.
In an effort to remain at the forefront of adaptive optics, and also in response to the calls from the White House to the halls of Congress to rebuild our nation’s lead in science and mathematics, New Mexico Tech has opted to form a collaborative push to establish a pilot industrial center for adaptive optics to stimulate higher education in the burgeoning field, as well as create new high-tech jobs in the state.
The initiative, which recently received seed funding from the Technology Research Collaborative (TRC), proposes to set up the Commercialization and Industrialization of Adaptive Optics (CIAO) Center to build new business applications and develop marketable products from novel adaptive optics systems.
AgilOptics, Inc., a small business located in Albuquerque, will be the facility manager for a pilot CIAO Center, while New Mexico Tech will administer the operation’s funding, which is expected to be garnered through several state, federal, and private industry sources.
In addition, collateral support in the form of expertise provided by consultants and advisors will be provided to the project by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory through an existing Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) that the lab maintains with the state research university in Socorro.
Initial plans call for the CIAO Center to be located in Albuquerque, housed in AgilOptics’ current facility and eventually within the Kirtland Air Force Base Technology Park, near many prominent businesses and organizations which are already recognized for their work in adaptive optics.
“The CIAO Center will be a place where local, national, or international businesses that want to try and develop adaptive optics upgrades for their products will be able to come and participate with staff scientists and engineers to learn how they can put adaptive optics to best use,” said Gary Loos, an optical scientist with New Mexico Tech’s Magdalena Ridge Observatory who also is currently serving as principal investigator of the CIAO project.
“The theme over our door will be ‘Bring me products,’” Loos and his fellow CIAO staffers have proclaimed.
Loos is joined in managing the adaptive optics pilot project by Dennis Mansell from AgilOptics, who is in charge of the commercial side of the project and is responsible for selecting and funding initial customers for the CIAO Center.
“We have constant requests from our current commercial customers to test their ideas for new optical systems benefiting from adaptive optics in a bread-board laboratory setting before committing to starting a new product development,” said Mansell. “The CIAO Center will provide a realistic way for these companies to pursue their ideas, and, thus, generate opportunities for new product lines to be developed.”
The CIAO Center is currently being set up through the TRC-provided seed funding as a pilot-scale facility to work with one or two selected businesses to bring their developing adaptive optics applications commercial realization, allowing the center’s staff to learn by experience what it takes to establish a much larger operation.