Technology Forum: Optics and Lasers

October 14, 2008

This month's Technology Forum looks at the topic of optics and lasers and the trends and issues surrounding it. Joining us for this discussion are Rob Morris, Director of Marketing, Ocean Optics, Inc.; and Phil Taday, Applications Group Leader, fromTeraView Limited.

The field of optics and lasers continues to be a growth industry, with laser technology in particular driving developments in the areas of IR, terahertz, and more. As new technological advancements enable new applications to be developed, this field will only continue to expand in coming years.

This month's Technology Forum looks at the topic of optics and lasers and the trends and issues surrounding it. Joining us for this discussion are Rob Morris, Director of Marketing, Ocean Optics, Inc.; and Phil Taday, Applications Group Leader, TeraView Limited.

How would you describe the current state of the laser and optics market? Is it growing? Contracting?

Morris: If the increasing number of laser-based applications is any indication, I suspect the laser market is growing. For example, some industry analysts suggest strong growth in Raman spectroscopy in the next few years; that has to bode well for some laser suppliers.

On the optics side, it's always safe to say markets are growing, because optics is so diverse. While you see expansion in what you might call "optics shop" business, thanks to China in particular, the greatest growth comes from the OEM-volume potential of newer types of optics - adaptive, dichroic, and so on, which have applications across many markets. Much depends on how you define optics.

Taday: At the moment it's hard to tell. But, large companies are beginning to reign in their capital expenditure. This is causing a contraction in the market which could well accelerate over the next few months.

What applications do you see as the biggest growth areas in the field of optics and lasers?

Morris: As I mentioned, Raman spectroscopy certainly seems to have benefited from lower-cost, more compact lasers, and laser power supplies. And I'm particularly bullish on the prospects for dichroic filter technologies across a variety of areas, including LED processes and multispectral imaging.

Taday: In our area it's the application in process analytical techniques. Today, it's not enough to generate data; you now need to provide information about a process.

Do you see the current economic climate adversely affecting this field?

Morris: It's unclear yet that folks are holding back on development, streamlining budgets, or scuttling projects - nothing that dramatic. However, you could reasonably deduce that a climate of uncertainty in the world economy in general has to have some sort of effect. If that's true, then folks will seek even more diligently the best value - in spectrometers, optics, lasers or whatever - they can buy. The optimist would suggest that tough times make us more creative, because we have to be.

What impact will the development of far-infrared/terahertz technology have on the field of optics and lasers?

Taday: Terahertz pulsed technology will drive laser manufactures to design cheaper and smaller ultra-fast lasers. We are seeing an increase in the number of companies supplying ultra-short pulsed fiber based systems. These systems working without chillers are a major development from the large Kerr-lens mode-locked Ti:sapphire pump Nd:YVO4 systems. With CW systems we require laser suppliers to design diode lasers that can be tuned over several nm's quickly with spectral resolution of a few MHz. These systems will also need to be supplied as cheaply as possible.

Any predictions for the future of optics/laser technology?

Morris: For hundreds of years, scientists, thinkers, and others have understood how important light is - and how being able to manipulate light to man's best advantage is an ongoing pursuit. Think of the progression from the earliest telescopes to the grandeur of the Hubble Space Telescope. That evolution didn't happen overnight. I think what we're involved in today are small but significant advances that open up new possibilities, new businesses, new ways of thinking about things. It's exciting to be part of all that.

Taday: Basically, smaller and cheaper.

What do you think?

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