Laser Collaboration Just One of Many Emerging Partnerships Among Universities in Colorado

Presidents at Colorado’s major research universities – Larry Edward Penley at Colorado State University, Hank Brown at the University of Colorado and Bill Scoggins at Colorado School of Mines – are working collaboratively in ways that benefit Colorado.

That cooperation also extends to scientific discovery.

As an example, laser research at Colorado State University, the University of Colorado and the Colorado School of Mines generates tens of millions of dollars in annual research expenditures for the state.

Those dollars have resulted in the creation of new technology, numerous research and educational opportunities for students and young scientists, spin-off companies and jobs, which makes laser research one of the best examples of collaboration among Colorado’s major research universities.

"Collaboration between Colorado’s major research universities is a key to the state’s strong position in the rapidly expanding photonics industry," said Drew Crouch, vice president and general manager for Advanced Technologies & Products at Boulder-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

Some of the most groundbreaking laser research in the nation is occurring as a result of collaboration among research universities in the state, particularly among the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines. Together, they account for more than $1 billion in annual research expenditures in Colorado.

Consistent economic analysis indicates research universities provide a fundamental economic advantage for the state in which they’re located. Colorado’s research universities all rank in the top tier, and each brings strengths in areas ranging from biomedicine to engineering to human health. While the universities routinely compete for students, faculty and research funding, those competitive advantages strengthen the institutions and their benefits to Colorado.

"It is essential for the success of nanotechnology and technology-based industries that we foster and support research collaborations with the universities and research labs," said Debbie Woodward, executive director of the Colorado Nanotechnology Alliance. "The state has an established and stellar research base to support industry, which will position Colorado among other leading technology states and create higher-wage jobs and economic growth for the state."

A particularly successful example of collaboration among industry and Colorado’s research universities is the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Science and Technology. The center, a partnership between Colorado State University, CU-Boulder and the University of California-Berkeley, is affiliated with numerous research and educational institutions nationwide. The National Science Foundation has committed $20 million to fund the center for the next five years.

The group is among the world’s leaders in developing compact extreme ultraviolet coherent light sources, optics and optical systems that can accommodate ever-shrinking electronic circuits and nanotechnologies.

Industry partners are anxious to jump on such technology. By 2009, six major technology companies, including Intel and AMD, plan to produce computer technologies using EUV light that will allow them to fabricate chips with speeds exceeding 20 GHz – about 10 times faster than existing technologies.

"This center is a model for how we want to work with our partners in higher education, particularly in Colorado," said Sandra Woods, dean of the College of Engineering at Colorado State. "Together, we advance technology that improves human lives and the world we occupy."

"Our team has a demonstrated track record of successful collaboration in research, education and technology transfer in Colorado," said Margaret Murnane, a CU-Boulder physics professor and deputy director of the center.

At CU-Boulder, the group led by Murnane and Henry Kapteyn, another physics professor, is a world leader in the technology of ultrashort-pulse lasers and ultrafast coherent EUV sources. A spin-off from their group, KMLabs in Boulder, sells high-power femtosecond lasers worldwide. At Colorado State, Professor Jorge Rocca’s team has developed the world’s first tabletop soft X-ray laser. Rocca is director of the center. Other faculty members, such as professors Carmen Menoni and Mario Marconi at Colorado State’s department of electrical and computer engineering and Elliot Bernstein in chemistry, have made use of the lasers to develop unique microscopes and metrology tools for industry and scientific research.

Physics and chemistry departments at the various institutions also are involved in laser research.

"In the five years that we’ve worked together, we’ve developed new tabletop microscopes with resolution superior to any compact light-based microscope and demonstrated new extreme ultraviolet spectroscopy tools for the study of materials structure and dynamics," Murnane said. "It’s a fantastic partnership."

Teams led by Murnane and Rocca, working with Berkeley scientists, have used the newly developed laser sources to implement engineered systems designed to find solutions to challenging scientific and technological problems.

At the Colorado School of Mines, Jeff Squier and Chip Durfee, physics professors, want to improve biological imaging with faster lasers, so they’re working with professors such as Randy Bartels in Colorado State’s engineering college.

"I think it’s important we do more of these things," Squier said. "Faculty work hard at these universities to really efficiently use the resources that we get."

While Squier is using lasers as the lightbulb inside a microscope, Scott Diddams at the National Institute of Standards and Technology wants the technology to make extremely precise optical clocks.

"Each one of the groups has different applications, but we all need inexpensive, robust laser sources, so we’re pooling our resources," Squier said. "The ultrafast laser community on the Front Range is amazing. Everyone’s aware of everyone else’s resources and strengths. We’re trying to take care of those strengths and not be competitive."

Meanwhile, through the collaboration with other universities and organizations in the state, his students are getting exposed to other projects.

"That’s the beauty of this collaboration," Squier said. "You’re utilizing these resources really efficiently. The students at Mines are getting exposed to what the students at CSU and the researchers at NIST are doing. I love it and the students love it."

That cooperation is attracting industry partners. Within its first three years, the Engineering Research Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Science and Technology had attracted 14 companies with corporate membership that pledged significant cash contributions and $1.5 million in in-kind equipment donations.

In January 2006, the center started to transfer its technology for the first time: JMAR Technologies licensed capillary discharge laser technology for nanoprobe development and commercialization.

Another important aspect of the collaborations is the best use of complementary expertise available at the different universities to teach advanced courses and train students. For example, Rocca and Kapteyn have collaborated in teaching a course through the Web that graduate students at the different campuses can access.

"A goal of the center is to have a broad impact on science and technology from fundamental research to the development of tools that can assist large-scale manufacturing. Another is to train a new generation of engineers and scientists," Rocca said. "EUV light opens numerous new opportunities in areas such as nanotechnology, surface science, photochemistry, atomic and molecular science, plasma physics and other fields."