Secure sensor and seal technologies for global nuclear nonproliferation

Physicists affiliated with the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) have developed and commercialized a patented laser component that revolutionizes the potential applications of fiber lasers. The NRL/ Sandia team discovered that coiling laser fibers in precise dimensions will filter out undesirable light modes, thereby making high-power fiber lasers possible. Their inventive solution resolved the power limitations of fiber lasers that had stymied the industry since these lasers were first developed in 1963, while preserving high beamquality output. The groundbreaking discovery now allows production of high-power fiber lasers that are more cost-effective, rugged, and compact than other types of lasers. Following patent approval in 2002, the team initiated transfer of its helical fiber amplifier (also called a mode-filtering fiber amplifier) to several commercial laser manufacturers: Nufern of East Granby, Connecticut; LIEKKI Corporation of Lohja, Finland; and IMRA America, Inc., of Ann Arbor, Michigan. By 2006, all three companies had received patent licenses allowing use of the innovative technology in their laser-based product lines. Over time, the technology transfer involved a changing list of collaborative partners and agreements as the inventors moved on to other research institutions. Despite the complexities involved, the outcome has been impressive, with new products already on the market and vast potential markets awaiting the new award-winning technology. The collaboration between Department of Defense and Department of Energy researchers to develop the NRL and Sandia-patented technology will significantly affect industries like telecommunications, materials processing, and remote sensing by enabling lasers with higher power capability, superior performance features, lower maintenance costs, and smaller size. Applications range across the private and public sectors from real-time contaminant sensing and precision circuitry manufacture to secure high-bandwidth communications. Helical fiber amplifiers are already changing the worldwide fiber laser industry, shaping multibillion dollar market shares and creating new-product possibilities.

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