Innovation from University Research

A shining example of innovation stemming from university research is Plasmonics Inc., a spin-off company from the UCF College of Optics and Photonics Professor Glenn Boreman’s infrared systems research group.

Founded by Drs. David Shelton and Glenn Boreman, Plasmonics is currently developing cutting-edge technology associated with infrared systems and nanotechnology, primarily for the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Until recently, we’ve mainly focused on research and development,” says Shelton. “The Small Business Innovation Research Program [SBIR] has played a key role in some of the core technologies developed to date. As a company, we are now faced with transitioning from solely research and development to manufacturing and pursuing commercial markets.”

According to Nathan Post, chief operations officer at Plasmonics, the company was recently selected for its third SBIR Phase II award of 2013. Traditionally, the goal of a Phase II program is to develop a field-ready prototype with intentions of mass production.

An example of Phase II programs involves thermal management for space systems. “A major problem that existing satellites have is heat management,” cites Post. “Since satellites produce heat while in a vacuum, the only way for their electronics to emit heat is through radiation. So, unless a satellite is actively orienting itself away from the sun, it will overheat and melt. We’re currently working on developing a material that will be a zero-power consumption passive solution that can control the direction that heat is emitted. The end product will be a material fixed to the outside of a satellite.” Plasmonics’ is scheduled for a test flight in 2015.

Another Phase II project involves developing an unattended ground sensor (UGS) that can distinguish between a person or a vehicle or an animal (for example). The UGS will effectively be a motion detector that only alerts when something of interest is detected.  The Phase I results were impressive and now the Plasmonics and its full-time staff of nine (including four Ph.D. engineers and material scientists) are working to improve the resolution and range of the UGS.

The next step is transitioning into the commercial industry. “Right now, we have a toolbox full of innovative core technologies that can be used for a wide variety of applications,” says Post. “We are currently identifying problems in the marketplace to focus our efforts.”