University of Rochester

Laser Lab Transfers Super-Camera Technology to Local Optics Firm

September 9, 2004

A camera designed by researchers at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics to take incredibly quick snapshots of the giant laser in action has been licensed exclusively to a local business, Sydor Instruments, LLC, to commercialize the technology for use in groundbreaking research around the world.

“We’re very excited about this technology,” says Michael Pavia, president of Sydor Instruments. “We’re proud to be able to take local research and turn it into a commercial product that is eagerly sought-after worldwide.”

The device, called Rochester Optical Streak System (ROSS), is a camera that takes in light from very brief events and turns it into data rather than an actual picture. In the case of the University’s Laser Lab, the streak camera records how tiny pellets of fusion fuel react when they are hit with different laser speeds and energies. This high-speed “snapshot” occurs in less than a billionth of a second. Other uses for streak cameras include particle accelerator experiments, catching chemical reactions in mid-process, and the measurement of light-based technologies, such as those used in the telecommunications industry.

What sets the University’s camera apart from other streak cameras is that it is extremely accurate. It employs an automatic calibration to ensure it is operating at peak effectiveness, and it is this ability to self-calibrate that is the real innovation behind the patented Laser Lab design. Calibration of most streak cameras requires a large super-fast laser, which is cumbersome and takes time to set up properly. The new design instead slows down the operation of the streak camera to allow more precise calibration—much like slowing down a movie to let an editor make more precise cuts. Calibrating in this manner creates very low background noise and allows a much smaller laser to be used. It is so compact that it can be housed as part of the camera itself. With a self-included calibration module, the new streak camera ensures that it is operating as accurately as possible each time it’s used.

Sydor Instruments already has orders pending for the new cameras, which sell for between $325,000 and $375,000 each. The company plans to be fully producing the instrument by early next year.