Sometimes called the "Oscars of Invention," R&D Magazine's R&D 100 Awards have for nearly 50 years honored game-changing technologies, from the flashcube (1965) to high-definition television (1998).
The annual list of technologies is usually dominated by national laboratories and big companies.
But every year, some smaller companies get the nod for technologies that may not be revolutionary themselves but could lead to bigger things.
That's the case with AdValue Photonics, a Tucson company that recently landed on the R&D 100 for a new kind of fiber-optic laser.
AdValue, founded in 2007 by president Shibin Jiang, was recognized for developing a high-powered, fast-pulsed fiber laser that operates in the 2-micron wavelength range.
The new laser could have broad new uses in industrial, military and medical applications, said Jiang, a former assistant UA research professor in optics and currently an adjunct professor in the College of Optical Sciences.
While other companies have started offering 2-micron fiber lasers, AdValue's device offers higher power levels in a pulsed design. "The important thing is, it's a new wavelength that people never demonstrated before" for this type of high-powered, pulsed laser, Jiang said.
The glass fiber the company makes in Tucson is impregnated, or "doped," with the element thulium to give it special properties, Jiang said.
AdValue's fiber laser operates in the "mid-infrared" wavelength range - part of the infrared spectrum residing between microwaves and visible light.
That makes it a useful tool for developing sensors because many high-interest targets of molecular research have their spectral "signatures" - a combination of reflected and absorbed electromagnetic radiation used to identify objects - in the mid-infrared range, said Gail Overton, senior editor of Laser Focus World magazine.
"That wavelength has a lot of applications in industry," Overton said, citing medical devices, countermeasures for military aircraft and chemical sensing. "The mid-IR window is just a good area for sensing technology - a lot of chemicals, their fingerprints are in that window."
And it helps that AdValue draws its own glass optical fibers right here in Tucson, while other companies are dependent on suppliers.
"Because they make it right there at AdValue, they're able to do a lot of interesting and proprietary things with the fiber other companies can't do," Overton said.
Though AdValue began selling its fiber lasers last year, research is still a big part of the company, which employs about 20 people.
AdValue recently won a $1 million, two-year Small Business Innovation Research grant through the U.S. Department of Energy to develop an ultra-fast, fiber laser at 2 microns wavelength for use in particle accelerator research.
Second startup for founder
AdValue is the second optics startup Jiang has been involved with in Tucson.
In 2001, he left his job as an assistant research professor at the UA optics college to help found NP Photonics Inc. with Nasser Peyghambarian, UA chair of photonics and lasers.
Jiang, who last year was named a fellow of the Optical Society of America, says he hopes for continued growth at AdValue, which is so far self-funded.
AdValue moved to a larger space at 3708 E. Columbia St. last year to accommodate growth, and uses a separate facility nearby for production. In addition to fiber lasers, AdValue makes amplifiers, light sources and other components.
Zygo also an award winner
While no other Tucson-based companies made this year's R&D 100 list, another optics firm with significant operations here was an award winner.
Connecticut-based-Zygo Corp., which has a major manufacturing operation on Tucson's south side, was cited for its DynaFiz laser interferometer, which is designed to make accurate optical measurements amid extreme vibration.
DID YOU KNOW?
Last year's Tucson-based winners of the R&D 100 Awards were nine-time award winner MER Corp., for a process of converting rare-earth mineral ore into high-purity metals, and Xeridiem Medical Devices Inc., for a new type of chest-clearing tube.
Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at email@example.com or 573-4181.