This past summer, Boston Micromachines Corporation conducted a survey of nearly 300 members of the business and scientific community to find out what features were valued in a deformable mirror for adaptive optics and other wavefront correction applications. Respondents came from our three major vertical markets: microscopy, astronomy and laser science. In this survey, we asked some fundamental questions and had respondents choose between three DMs with properties varying in categories of actuator count, stroke, response time and price in various combinations. We were able to drill down to what each respondent valued. Here are some of our key findings:
1) Actuator count was the most valued property
Across all verticals, this was true. Overall, respondents preferred an average of 1000 actuators. While microscopists preferred 140 actuators by almost 2 to 1 over other models, those who identified as laser scientists were looking for an average of 1001 actuators and astronomers preferred, on average, 1800 actuators.
This was very interesting to us considering we are the only player in the market to provide deformable mirrors with these actuator counts as standard products or are developing DM systems which meet these specific needs (we have a 2000 element mirror in the works).
2) High speed is important
The most frequently chosen option for response time amongst laser scientists was 50μs and all other disciplines preferred average response better than 300μs. This is great news for the industry considering that most mirror architectures can respond adequately to meet the needs of the users. Our DM architectures are available with response times up to 22μs and we are able to drive these mirrors with our X-Driver (response time down to 4μs), satisfying high speed requirements as well.
3) Low price is desired
As we hear so often, most users were looking for low-priced devices. This was the second preferred property after actuator count. While those of us in the industry talk about lower prices with higher volumes, the volumes just haven’t been there yet to make this prophecy come true. The hope in the future is that the DMs based on scalable technologies, such as MEMS, will take off and lower-priced devices will be available.
We definitely learned a lot from this survey, above and beyond what is mentioned above. If you have any questions about our methods or are interested in discussing more specifics about the responses, I would be glad to chat further. Just contact me at email@example.com.
This year, the CLEO Conference had its normal interesting character: A variety of users from hardcore laser scientists to focused business interests to laser scanning imaging folks. Boston Micromachines took our position within the Thorlabs booth for the 5th year(thanks again, guys!) and demonstrated some great technologies that we think will make an impact in the industry. Our MEMS Optical Modulator generated a fair amount of interest and prompted some great questions about its capabilities and possibilities. We showed its flexibility by demonstrating how with a simple input signal and an amplifier, a reflective diffractive element can be used to couple light into a fiber at varying frequency and amplitude. We went into the show thinking this would be the big topic of conversation. While we did have some great conversations and we’re more than happy with the response, the real star of the show was our Wavefront Sensorless Adaptive Optics Demonstrator for Beam Shaping. Users from all walks of the laser industry approached me with potential uses from wavefront characterization techniques to photon counting. I learned that the simplistic nature of the kit (maximize a signal through a pinhole) allows researchers with very different backgrounds to think of interesting ways to take advantage of its versatility. We found that the simple, clear spot on the screen was enough to entice microscopists and laser scientists alike to brainstorm interesting ways in which to integrate the deformable mirror, detector and algorithm of the system into their latest work. I am looking forward to some great follow-up conversations!
I did get the chance to venture out of the booth for a few talks as well as touch base with some new and old friends. Major impressions:
1) AO is still not a major player in laser science
While there were some interesting topics and uses of deformable mirrors and spatial light modulators, the technique is by no means pervasive as in other industries such as astronomy or biological imaging. Other techniques such as MIIPS (congratulations again, Dr. Dantus) serve the industry and are well proven to be able to satisfactorily shape pulses. Another theory: Laser scientists prefer to go after the laser for improvements instead of supplementary hardware. This could be for a variety of reasons such as: a) extra hardware means lost light, b) this is where they are comfortable and love to tweak things or c) the cost is just too high right now.
2) Beam characterization is becoming more affordable
With a few companies introducing higher speed and lower cost wavefront sensors, the market is becoming more accessible to more researchers. This can only be good for everyone.
3) Booth traffic is down, but more focused
In past years, my conversations were usually an even split between educating the visitor about the basics and having in-depth discussions about the capabilities and possibility of integrating devices into optical systems. This year, the split was more like 75/25 in favor of detailed discussions. Many are well aware of the background and of the 75%, at least half approach me with well thought-out ideas. It is very refreshing and encouraging to have these discussions and I suspect the ratio will continue to grow as years go by.
Overall, it was a productive show. I look forward to returning to San Jose next year and introduce exciting products that we have in our product roadmap and get more people to shape their light!
Boston Micromachines has been awarded US$ 1.2M in contracts by NASA's Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) to support space-based astronomy research. Now, one might wonder, considering this is astronomy, “why is anyone spending any money to develop deformable mirrors for use in space telescopes looking out at the stars? I thought that deformable mirrors were used to remove aberrations introduced by the atmosphere. There’s no atmosphere up there!”
Well, you’d be right: There is no atmosphere up there. But, there are aberrations: In the optical system. When systems are designed, none of them are completely perfectly aligned. There’s no such thing. But, when you’re looking for planets around stars in other galaxies, you need things to be well aligned. VERY well aligned. So, to compensate for any misalignments introduced either during transit to space or thermal variations in the instrument, you can use a deformable mirror as part of an adaptive optics system. So, for this, we are designing a 1021 segment (3063 actuator), tip-tilt-piston deformable mirror. It is the largest ever designed of this type and is expected to be used as part of a coronagraph telescope for exo-planet research.
Two other things to worry about are power and weight. In satellites, there is a very limited amount of power, and the weight greatly affects the cost to put the satellite into orbit. In terms of the mirror, MEMS has that taken care of: The power is extremely low and the weight is many orders of magnitude lower than traditional piezo-electric-based mirrors. So, the other half of the equation is the drive electronics. As part of this research, BMC is designing multiplexed drive electronics which will reduce the size and weight significantly and lower the power even further.
You put the two parts together, mirror hardware and drive electronics, and you have a low-cost, low-power, lightweight solution for the most cutting edge astronomy research going on right now.
If you have any questions, please contact me directly: I would be happy to talk about these products or refer you to the folks who are attacking this challenging problem.
Link to press release.
(Image credit: A giant Hubble mosaic of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant)