June 2000

Optical R&D at the Army Research Laboratory

Tyler Krupa

As clearly evidenced during the 1991Gulf War, optical technologies are playing a significant role in modern-day US Army operations. Night vision devices, missile guidance systems, and target detection are just a few of the optical applications that have proven capable of increasing military efficiency and decreasing the number of casualties. Since such a large part of the Army’s success now depends on sophisticated systems and weaponry, active research and development (R&D) in cutting-edge optical technology has become a priority.

Time-Resolved Microscopy of Lasers Photothermal Imaging

Today, computers direct powerful lasers to expose laser photothermal imaging materials2 that directly produce printing plates with minimal processing (computer-to-plate imaging). In the most advanced systems, registration problems are virtually eliminated by imaging plates that are already mounted on the printing press (computer-to-press imaging, or CTP). CTP is a highly efficient method for large-volume printing applications.

Whither Optical Design?

Until recently, the dimensions of typical optical systems were much greater than optical wavelengths. Specialists in geometrical optics studied refraction using aberrations and rays, and specialists in physical optics studied images using waves, with neither group having much in common with the other. Now, however, optical wavelengths are not considered as short as they used to be. At the same time, there is a lack of people competent in both geometrical and physical optics.We have the tools to tackle challenging and exciting problems of much greater scope and interest than ever before, but fewer and fewer people know how to use these tools. Nearly twenty years ago, Warren Smith wrote an article entitled “The Vanishing Lens Designer;” today, the dwindling number of expert lens designers has become a problem that is even more keenly felt.

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