News Feature | June 15, 2022

Bright Ideas — Micrometeoroid Jolts JWST, Study Finds The Perfect Wavelength to Kill COVID

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By Abby Proch, Editor

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Ouch. The James Webb Space Telescope took a direct hit from a micrometeoroid last month, damaging one of the hexagonal mirror segments. Fortunately, the roughly $10 billion JWST fared well, with the projectile — which was smaller than a grain of sand — caused no measurable impact to telescope’s overall performance. NASA said it anticipated micrometeoroid strikes (it’s already seens four smaller ones), but the latest was larger than expected.

Not another one. A second NASA instrument suffered a blow recently. The Mars helicopter Ingenuity needs a software patch to recover from a sensor failure. A supporting act the Perseverance rover, Ingenuity is tasked with observing the rover’s surroundings and charting its course. Despite the setback, the helicopter has fared better than expected because of its tenacity, especially in the face of wildly fluctuating temperatures and relentless dust. The patch is expected to help the copter pull data from other sensors to get up and running once again.

Sony is joining satellite communications fray with the announcement of a new California-based subsidiary, Sony Space Communications Corporation (SSCC). SSCC will reportedly apply its optical disc technology as basis for pursuing small, lightweight, scalable optical communications devices to support ground-to-satellite and intersatellite laser links in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Optics.org notes that establishing ground links proves challenging due to the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere but acquiesces optical links likely heavy smoother logistics because they do not require radio communication licenses.

Fresnel lenses may soon make way for new optical components when it comes to improving the AR/VR experience. A report by IDTechEx explains that “birdbath” and pancake lenses, among others, may provide better quality images in a smaller form factor. Fresnel lenses are cheap and easily made but do produce artifacts that degrade images. IDTechEx also expects the XR optics industry to grow by 24% through 2032.

Imaging an entire mouse brain has been done. But imaging a human brain — to the point of calling it a “Google Earth” rendition — hasn’t been accomplished just yet. But one U.S.-based research team is on the path to imaging the more than 180 billion cells in the human brain in the hopes of providing incredible data for studies in behavior, cognition, and neurodegenerative diseases. Optica Fellow Elizabeth Hillman and her team are using its high-speed light-sheet microscopy alongside fluorescent tissue labeling and data science to map all of the cells in a human brain in just one week. Hillman’s goal is to democratize the process for wider use.

With a comprehensive test that honed in on the ability of singular wavelengths of UV light to kill SARS-CoV-2, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) may have conducted the most thorough investigation to date. Together, the two determine the coronavirus is rendered ineffective under the same UVC range, between 222 and 280 nm, that kills other viruses, such as the flu. They also found that a larger dose of UV radiation is needed to kill coronavirus in simulated saliva than in water, meaning the virus’ surroundings play a part in its survivability. Because of strict health and safety measures, which require extensive cleaning of everyone and everything involved, the team had to alter their laser and include additional optical elements so that the laser could be placed in the hallway outside the lab.

Finally, in business news, ORCA Computing, a full-stack quantum computing startup, has announced a $15 million Series A funding round. OCRA had also been recently chosen by Innovate UK to develop a quantum data center. It is also using its PT-1 model quantum computer, which runs at room temperature, to support a British Ministry of Defence effort in developing future data processing capabilities. Photonics giant Hamamatasu has made an investment into NLM Photonics. Details regarding the amount of funding were not made public, but NLM has said the investment will “accelerate NLM Photonics’ current efforts and contribute to the financial and intellectual resources we are assembling in support of our development plans.”