Sydor Technologies has been awarded an $1.15 million Phase II SBIR grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue development of a fast photodiode used in labs for laser characterization, synchrotrons and fusion experiments.
The grant also provides for the continuation of the Rochester-based company’s work with the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester that focuses on expanded research opportunities.
The fast photodiode – which is a device that generates current when exposed to light – will benefit fusion and high energy density physics facilities, such as LLE, conducting ultra-fast timing experiments that require good quantum efficiency in deep UV and x-ray regimes, the company reported.
The fast photodiode fills a niche requirement in fast timing measurements that is not currently met, according to Valerie Fleischauer, principal investigator and development scientist at Sydor Technologies.
“Bringing this to the market offers a solution for laboratories that are not able to secure larger and more costly timing measurement technologies and will allow researchers the opportunity to increase the lines of sight that are monitored in experiments,” she said.
Sydor Technologies has been awarded a $200,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to deliver a detailed design and produce a low voltage pulse generator.
The Rochester-based company is a global provider of advanced x-ray detectors and specialized high voltage electronics for critical science missions and fundamental research. The Phase I grant will enable Sydor to deliver a detailed design and produce a low voltage demonstrator unit for testing and exploring new features. The new design will be capable of supporting the planned Electron-Ion Collider injection system at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
The advances made in the proposed work will provide critical infrastructure at national laboratories like BNL, as well as to those accelerators undergoing upgrades to new particle species and/or faster, shorter particle bunches or light pulses, officials said.
“A robust and commercially supported high voltage pulser with a reliable self-test and graceful failure mechanism will enable facilities like the future EIC to successfully fulfill the mission developed over the past decade and to operate reliably at levels not possible today,” said David Garand, principal investigator at Sydor Technologies.
Sydor was founded in 2004 and supplies systems and support in more than 33 countries.
It’s hard to imagine that when lasers were first invented there was a bit of a “so what?” reaction.
In 1960, light was the main application people could envision from lasers and the question was why did we need a new source of light?
But today, laser research in Rochester is helping to determine where in the universe there might be life.
Michael Campbell, director of the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, explains that much of the research done at the lab focuses on what happens to matter under extreme conditions.
“Most of the universe is in extreme conditions,” he said. By firing the laser at molecules in an attempt to create fusion in a lab setting, scientists begin to understand more about what’s happening to molecules elsewhere in the universe. And depending on which molecules and how they interact, they could be the ones to support life.
All this comes from the ongoing main mission at LLE, which is to harness fusion to create a clean source of energy. Scientists including Campbell are reluctant to make predictions about when fusion will finally be reached in a controllable way to produce commercial energy. They don’t want to fall into the trap that “cold fusion,” a different technology, fell into when it failed to materialize as promised.
Nevertheless, Campbell predicted fusion will be reached in about a decade.
“We will demonstrate that we can light the fire,” Campbell said, which is just the beginning.
Ignition at LLE will be a breakthrough on the order of human flight – the one the Wright brothers succeeded in at Kitty Hawk in 1903, Campbell said. It took another dozen years or so for some militaries in Europe to adopt flight for use in World War I. Then another 20 years passed before planes were used more extensively to fight in World War II. Finally, another 15 years went by before commercial travel by air became routine.
“Fusion is really hard, but in the end, it will power the planet,” Campbell said. “The energy crisis goes away.” And it will power the planet as long as people exist, he added. His confidence is rooted in the fact that fusion is nature’s way of making energy, he said, (i.e., the sun). But it’s hard for us to replicate nature. “Nothing that impactful is easy.”
About 60 percent of research at LLE is actually done by visiting scientists who bring their laser experiments to Rochester. They hail from the federal government, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and other centers for scientific advancement. What they discover sometimes is a byproduct of what they were looking for.
“We do science, but in the process of doing science, we find technology,” Campbell said. For instance, developing smaller and smaller wavelengths for lasers has been useful in making smaller and smaller computer circuitry. As smaller integrated computer circuits became available, the capacity of the computers increased, while their size decreased. The fastest computers in 1985, Campbell noted, had a fraction of the capacity contained in the smartphones many of us carry in our pockets.
“You start out doing science, but people find ways to use things that you’d never imagine,” he said.
LLE, with an annual budget of $80 million, employs 350 people and keeps 140 graduate students busy too. About one third of those graduate students go on to jobs in the industry, another third end up working at laser research centers such as the national laboratories, and one third go into academia, Campbell said.
One of those students was Donna Strickland, who is now a professor at the University at Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada. As a graduate student at UR in the late 1980s, Strickland and her adviser, Gérard Mourou, were using the same laser technology that’s been used to operate on nearsighted eyes and create super-strong Gorilla glass. They developed a way to amplify the strength of laser impulses in a way that allowed the development of table-top lasers. Strickland and Mourou shared in a Nobel Prize in Physics a few months ago based on this work that she featured in her graduate thesis.
“The Nobel gives us a reputation for quality,” Campbell said. More work at LLE, attracted by the attention to its former student and former professor winning the prize, will mean more work generally in Rochester. Several local companies, including Sydor Technologies and Optimax Systems Inc., may benefit as a result.
Sydor manufactures products that are necessary for firing and assessing the laser at the lab and has gone on to make such products for places like the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and similar facilities in the United Kingdom and France.
“We transfer technology from the LLE and commercialize it into products that can be sold to customers around the world,” said Michael Pavia, president and CEO at Sydor.
Not all laser research in Rochester happens at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. Last week, a joint project of scientists at UR and Rochester Institute of Technology won attention from the publication Physics World. They’re working on a phonon laser, which amplifies sound instead of light and have developed a technique to increase and focus oscillation of suspended nanoparticles.
According to lead scientist Nick Vamivakas at UR, the work could advance precision measuring, which is key in the use and manufacture of optics. By the way, Vamivakas’ team is building on the work of American physicist Arthur Ashkin, who was the third person to share the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics.
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