Light--or photons--is the key to many recent developments at ORNL. Consider these examples:

A new laser technique for nonsurgically diagnosing certain cancers.

A much less expensive test for detecting polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in environmental samples using strips of chemically treated paper that glow if they are exposed to PCBs and then excited by ultraviolet light.

A thin-film light-wave guide that could be used to make an optical switch to increase the amount of "data traffic" on the information superhighway.

A phosphate glass originally developed to isolate radioactive waste that shows promise for lenses and optical fibers for such uses as laser surgery.

Use of diamond turning, a precision-machining technique well-honed at the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant, to make better mirrors and lenses at the Ultraprecision Manufacturing Technology Center.

A spectroelectrochemical sensor that uses light to detect groundwater pollutants.

Use of a photon emission measurement technique to determine composition of materials as they are being produced for application in production process control in the metal plating, aluminum, and organic polymer industries.

These developments and other research performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory related to lasers, lenses, optical fibers, fluorescent materials, and special manufacturing techniques can be collectively referred to as photonics technology. Scattered ORNL research related to light has been brought under the umbrella of the Laboratory's new Advanced Photonics Initiative. In this way, we hope to highlight our capabilities in a growing field deemed essential to development of new materials, energy and environmental technologies, information technologies, and manufacturing technologies to improve the nation's economic competitiveness. In this issue of the Review, we present the breadth of work being performed in photonics, its relevance and importance to other research activities, and the significance of ORNL's accomplishments in the field.

What is photonics? According to the magazine Photonics Spectra, photonics is "the technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and information processing." Those of us working in this field believe it is one of the most important fields of science at the Laboratory. This belief is supported by indicators such as the amount of photonics-related research being performed at ORNL ($25 million annually), the number of Laboratory divisions involved (most technical divisions), the number of researchers involved (more than 140), and the importance of the accomplishments (a large percentage of ORNL's 82 R&D 100 awards have had significant photonics contributions).

To provide a flavor of the breadth of local photonics work, brief descriptions of current research and two other articles on photonics are presented here. One article is on the Ultraprecision Manufacturing Technology Center and the other is on ORNL's development of thin-film light-wave guides.

Most of the photonics-related research at the Laboratory falls into three broad technical categories: materials and materials processing, process diagnostics, and environmental sensing. More specifically, ORNL work is focused on optical materials, laser materials processing, optical manufacturing, spectroscopy, advanced infrared and far infrared laser diagnostics, hybrid optical processing, image processing, environmental and physical sensors, and fiber-optic sensors.

Out of the Darkness

Until three years ago, few people at ORNL were aware that so much photonics-related research was being conducted at the Laboratory. The reason: the dispersion of these activities throughout many groups and divisions. In 1991, a grass-roots effort was made to unify the researchers working in the field through a voluntary organization called the Advanced Photonics Initiative. The purpose of this initiative was to increase the Laboratory's visibility in the photonics field by (1) improving communications among individual researchers and research groups doing photonics research, (2) encouraging the formation of multidivisional project teams, (3) raising the awareness of our colleagues within DOE and industry concerning ORNL's rich capabilities in photonics research, and (4) helping to identify and secure new research programs in photonics. Although the initiative started with collaborations among the Health Sciences Research Division, the Engineering Technology Division, and the Instrumentation and Controls Division, it soon grew to encompass 10 divisions at ORNL, the Development Division at the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant, and the Technical Division at the Oak Ridge K-25 Site. Thus, the Advanced Photonics Initiative has become an initiative of Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, which manages the three Oak Ridge facilities for the Department of Energy.

Recent actions have helped ORNL strengthen research programs in photonics and gain national recognition as a center of photonics research. For example, in December 1993, under the sponsorship of DOE, an industry-laboratory workshop was held at ORNL on "Optical Diagnostics in Manufacturing and Process Control." In January 1994 the Advanced Photonics Initiative received financial support from both the ORNL Executive Committee and the Oak Ridge Centers for Manufacturing Technology. Although not yet singled out as a core competency, photonics is being recognized throughout Energy Systems as a key technical area. Likewise, efforts to educate individuals and organizations within Oak Ridge about our significant photonics capabilities and to inform others through increased publications in trade magazines and newspapers are being carried out successfully.

An additional objective of our efforts is to strengthen the infrastructure supporting photonics research, an important consideration in these days of scarce resources. Some benefits of improved communications and networking stimulated by the initiative have been identification of resources (such as lasers), resource sharing, and determination of future needs for photonics-related research.

Future Bright for Studies of Light

The future for photonics at ORNL appears promising, particularly when viewed in terms of many new research and development (R&D) opportunities. Photonics is becoming an increasingly important technology in all aspects of our society. Examples of new applications and continuing areas of R&D are flat panel displays, high-definition television, optical information storage, and optical computing. The economic impact of the technologies can be tremendous. For example, the opto-electronics industry has estimated that flat panel displays are the key technology for products having an estimated market of $200 billion by 2000. .

The importance of photonics has been recognized by the Clinton administration and Congress for its positive impact on the U.S. economy, job creation, defense, and the environment. For example, one congressional committee recently noted that "optics is a rapidly growing, highly diversified [field that is supporting the] international economy" and that "the United States is in the midst of an optics revolution."

Within ORNL, photonics is closely aligned with three other significant Laboratory and Energy Systems initiatives: the Intelligent Measurement Systems Laboratory, a new instrumentation user center modeled after the High Temperature Materials Laboratory; the Oak Ridge Centers for Manufacturing Technology, which draws upon the manufacturing capabilities of the Y-12 Plant and the R&D capabilities of ORNL and the K-25 Site; and the proposed Environmental, Life, and Social Sciences Complex. Plans for this complex include building not only the Center for Biological Sciences but also the Biological Imaging and Advanced Photonics Laboratory. The newly formed Center for Biotechnology also will explore photonics technologies such as biosensors. .

ORNL is also building external relationships to provide for its future in photonics. The Laboratory, which is a member of the Alliance for Optical Technology of Huntsville, Alabama, is a participant in the alliance's residence training program in optics established through a U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency award. ORNL is working with other photonics centers in the Southeast, such as the Fiber and Electro-optics Research Center at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the Center for Luminescent Materials at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Center for Research in Electro-Optics and Lasers at the University of Central Florida. ORNL's network of photonics-related partnerships is expected to expand. In the future, the Laboratory plans to form ties with sister DOE laboratories, such as Sandia National Laboratories, where photonics research complementary to that at ORNL is under way. Beneficial partnerships with industry may also be forged through cooperative research and development agreements in areas such as phosphor coatings for flat panel displays. .

The Laboratory shows strengths in three areas of photonics R&D--process diagnostics, environmental sensing, and materials processing. It has been forming ties with other institutions involved in photonics research. Opportunities in photonics are growing in ORNL mission areas such as energy and the environment. It is no wonder that as we look toward the future through the photonics tunnel, the light we see at the other end is very bright indeed.


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