For his efforts to manufacture a widely used type of optical lens faster and more precisely, graduate student Curtis Harkrider has been named a National Research Council pre-doctoral fellow in integrated manufacturing.
Harkrider, a third-year doctoral student in the University of Rochester's Institute of Optics, was one of 12 students selected nationwide through a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. For each of the next three years he will receive a $20,000 stipend and $15,000 toward tuition.
Harkrider's research focuses on gradient-index (GRIN) optics, where scientists change the composition of a piece of glass to alter the way that light travels through it. (Traditional lenses bend light by varying in thickness or curvature.) The most common method of making a GRIN lens is to chemically alter the glass itself, usually by soaking it in a bath of molten sodium or lithium salt. The manufacturing process is one of trial and error, with manufacturers using various salt solutions to make dozens of lenses until a set with the desired light-bending properties is found.
Harkrider is trying to systematize the production of GRIN lenses by applying the concepts of integrated manufacturing. Instead of designing lenses without considering the difficulty of making them, Harkrider will take manufacturing concerns into account even as he begins to design new lenses. A large part of the project will be the use of formulas developed by recent University graduate Julie Bentley on the interactions between different ions and types of glass.
"Integrated manufacturing rolls design and manufacture into one process," Harkrider says.
Because GRIN lenses can often be made significantly smaller than their traditional counterparts, they are incorporated into the endoscopes now used in many surgical procedures, such as the removal of knee cartilage or the gall bladder. Harkrider believes that by making GRIN lenses more efficiently, the cost of producing them should drop dramatically, in some cases from hundreds of dollars to less than $50 -- savings that could be passed along to surgical patients. GRIN lenses are also widely used in fax machines and photocopiers, making possible the desk-top versions common today.
Harkrider, a native of West Covina, Calif., completed his undergraduate work at the University of California at Irvine. He is working with Duncan Moore, Kingslake Professor of Optical Engineering and dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. sb