A: When I joined the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester in 2009, I was already doing freeform optics research at CREOL at the University of Central Florida in designing near-eye displays for 3D visualization. Early on, I had the intuition that we needed more complex-shaped optics to design compact systems and realized that we did not know how to design these optics. Fabrication by some of the best corporations would be a story to tell on its own, where smooth specifications of a freeform mirror would be delivered as a diffraction grating (caused by what we call today mid-spatial frequencies). Metrology was non-existent for freeforms.
I saw the opportunity that freeform optics had to offer to the optical instrumentation industry, so I made the shift from researching within my group to creating a center. I also had the desire to accelerate progress and address the challenges, so I sought to build a collaborative community who’d work side-by-side. When I relocated to Rochester, the support of some of my new colleagues in the Institute and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, as well as from Mechanical Engineering made this community possible. It was further solidified by inviting colleagues from the University of North Carolina Charlotte from Physics and Optical Science as well as Mechanical Engineering.
A key person, and a pillar to our efforts, was my partner, Dr. Kevin Thompson. He was an expert in optical system design and Director of Engineering at Optical Research Associates (now a division of Synopsys), who also received a joint faculty appointment at the Institute of Optics at the University Rochester. He worked with about 100 companies annually and understood the need to stay ahead of emerging technologies, including those for National Security. We further owe the launch of the Center for Freeform Optics to the seven founding partners: Air Force Research Lab, Ball Aerospace, OptiPro (all three continuous members from the inception of the Center), PolymerPlus, Rochester Precision Optics, Schott, and Zygo. Zygo, in fact, just returned. Several of these partners went through either an acquisition or a change in leadership. Despite these challenges, the center quickly expanded to a standing membership of about 17 members. We lost one member in 2020 due to COVID. We are however experiencing another phase of growth with four new members who have joined since January 2021 On the positive side of last year’s world challenge, we all realize perhaps even more deeply how important it is to build a strong community, where partnerships can flourish.