News Feature | March 29, 2023

Bright Ideas — 3D-Printed Rocket Launched, NSF Gives Grant To University of Dayton, Nanophotonics And Ultrafast Optics Breakthrough, And More

John Oncea

By John Oncea, Editor


Bright Ideas presents the most captivating news and innovations in optics and photonics. This week, we look at a SPIE Summit, combining MEMS with photonics in a single microchip, a demo of a new laser weapon system, and more.

A rocket made almost entirely of printed metal parts made its debut launch Wednesday night, reports NPR. It did not go well. The uncrewed vessel, Terran 1, blasted off but failed after three minutes of flight, crashing back down into the Atlantic Ocean. “The launch still marks a giant leap for its maker, California-based startup Relativity Space, and for the future of inexpensive space travel. About 85% of the rocket — including its nine engines — is 3D-printed at the company's factory in Long Beach, CA.” Relativity Space is already designing its next rocket, one that can carry heavier payloads, as it works toward its plan to create a rocket that's 95% 3D-printed materials.

Our friends at SPIE are throwing a one-day event designed for leaders within the optics and photonics industry. The SPIE Photonics Industry Summit will take please September 27 in Washington, D.C. The full-day program will host U.S. government leaders discussing federal policy and funding important to the optics and photonics industry with an audience of more than 150 company representatives. SPIE’s collective goal in the meeting is to raise the profile of the optics and photonics industry while learning more about the priorities of the U.S. government in this technology space.

A groundbreaking new technology developed by a team of researchers led by the University of Sydney’s Associate Professor Niels Quack has the potential to revolutionize optics and micro-electro mechanical systems (MEMS), reports This new technology involves combining MEMS with photonics in a single microchip, opening up a world of possibilities for precision devices such as 3D cameras and gas sensors. The photonic MEMS developed by the team at the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering are highly compact, consume very little power, and support a broad range of optical carrier signals with low optical losses. This opens up new opportunities for mobile phones and other devices that require more precise sensing capabilities. “The technology will advance knowledge in the field of micro- and nanofabrication, photonics, and semiconductors, with a wide range of applications,” said Quack. “These include beam steering for LIDAR 3D sensing in autonomous vehicles, programmable photonic chips, or information processing in quantum photonics.”

The University of Dayton (Go Flyers!) has received a generous grant from the National Science Foundation to provide an immersive summer experience for undergraduate college students interested in semiconductor materials, and electronic and photonic devices, the University reports. This 10-week session is designed to give students hands-on training and research opportunities in UD’s Nanofab Lab, under the supervision of professors from physics, electro-optics, and photonics, and chemical and materials engineering departments. “This program helps to promote scientific progress in basic and applied scientific research in the field of semiconductors and it helps to develop a diverse workforce with the necessary skills to succeed in the quickly growing semiconductor industry, which is critical for the nation’s technology advancement and national security,” said Jay Mathews, a UD associate professor of electro-optics and physics who is overseeing this NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at the University of Dayton.

TechRadar reports fiber optics is changing the way power is transmitted. Advances in optical communications technology have enabled HUBER +SUHNER to introduce their innovative Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) that uses fiber optics instead of the more traditional copper wires. This is an upgrade from the power-over-ethernet (PoE) to power-over-fiber (PoF), allowing for data and power to be transmitted over one cable, something which has been possible for over a century with analog signals. These advances in photonics have made it possible to provide large amounts of data that were previously only accessible through more niche applications. Copper, while widely used, has certain limitations: it cannot be installed near areas with high electric voltages due to potential sparking, can be interfered with by strong magnetic fields, and is thicker and heavier than fiber optics. By switching to fiber optics, these issues can be avoided while still providing reliable transmission of data and power.

Christos Argyropoulos, Penn State (Go Nittany Lions!) associate professor of electrical engineering and associate research professor in the Applied Research Laboratory, is the recipient of the 2023 European Association on Antennas and Propagation Leopold B. Felsen Award for Excellence in Electrodynamics, the University announced. The award is intended to “foster academic excellence in the electromagnetics community by giving recognition to outstanding fundamental contributions from early-stage researchers in electrodynamics,” as well as “to keep alive Professor Leo Felsen’s memory and scientific legacy,” according to the award webpage. “I am deeply honored to receive this award from the electrodynamics scientific community,” Argyropoulos said. “Prof. Leopold Felsen was a prominent figure in the area of theoretical electromagnetics and had a great influence on my career.”

In a breakthrough in the fields of nanophotonics and ultrafast optics, a Sandia National Laboratories research team has demonstrated the ability to dynamically steer light pulses from conventional, so-called incoherent light sources, reports EurekAlert. Semiconductor devices can manipulate light, allowing for new technologies such as holograms, remote sensing, self-driving cars, and high-speed communication to be revolutionized. With the use of LED or flashlight bulbs that are low-powered yet comparatively inexpensive, these powerful laser beams can be removed from the equation and replaced with more suitable and efficient solutions. This will create changes in the way we work with light, making it easier to use and install across many different applications. “What we’ve done is show that steering a beam of incoherent light can be done,” said Prasad Iyer, Sandia scientist and lead author of the research.

Finally, The Jewish Press reports Rafael Advanced Defense Systems recently demonstrated their new Iron Beam laser weapon system at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX 2023) in Abu Dhabi. The Iron Beam is designed to effectively combat threats such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), rockets, artillery shells, and mortar shells with a powerful 100 kilowatt-plus directed energy weapon. It offers users an economically sound alternative to traditional kinetic missiles as it reduces collateral damage while also possessing an unlimited magazine capacity. Ran Gozali, executive vice president of Rafael's land and naval division, stated that the Iron Beam can focus its beam on a precise target with a diameter as small as a coin inside a 10-kilometer range despite air turbulence effects which can diffuse rays.