University of Rochester scientists have been awarded $1.8 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a Center for Theory in Optical Science and Engineering.
The money, to be awarded over the next four years, will provide the salaries of young researchers who will work closely with teams of University faculty members in new areas of optical theory. Theoretical scientists from government and industry are expected to join these research teams in exploring key problems of optical science in areas such as communications, quantum theory, computing, x-ray lasers, control of chemical reactions and even cryptography.
"It's very gratifying that the government is recognizing the national need for a specific center where expertise in the realm of pure theory will be maintained," says Joseph Eberly, professor of physics and optics and the director of the center.
Center members will explore the optical aspects of concepts such as quantum logic for computing and quantum cryptography for high security communications, and the optical basis for operation of non-invasive medical scanners and self-assembling atomic and molecular machines.
Other frontiers of interest include industrial developments that are familiar to many but are far from perfected, such as optical fibers to replace copper wires and circuits, and consumer items like compact disc players, copy machines and printers.
To help reduce the time between theory and application, center researchers will work with scientists from private companies and government laboratories, including Rochester-based Eastman Kodak, Tropel, Sinclair Optics, and Lucid Technologies, plus AT&T, Lockheed, NEC Research Institute, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Close links between theorists and industry are not unusual at Rochester; Eberly points out that twice as many of the theoretical students in optics who graduate from the University work in industry or government as teach at universities.
The NSF program will fund researchers who will work closely with University scientists from the departments of chemistry, mechanical engineering, and physics and astronomy, as well as the Institute of Optics and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. The grant will also pay students to participate in center projects during the summer, and for frequent long visits by industrial scientists so they can keep abreast of the latest theoretical developments.
"Theoretical work ideally leads places that typical product- oriented research never could," says Eberly. "This is where truly new concepts and products must ultimately come from."