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This item originally appeared in the April 8, 2004 issue of The Tech Talk.


Staff Writer

Little things can be a big deal.

At least that is what the Institute for Micromanufacturing is saying about a recently patented invention, developed by a team of researchers.

Philip Coane, an associate director and senior research engineer for the IfM; Mike Vasile, former holder of the Tolbert Pipes endowed chair in mechanical engineering; and Vijay-Anandh Shanmugan, a former micromanufacturing graduate student, are the creators of a micromanufacturing process that will make small optical components, or micro lenses, out of glass.

"Low-cost optical quality lenses are typically made from plastics," Coane said. "But plastics that are subjected to heatĘcan melt and therefore are not as durable as glass," Coane said.

Coane said the team used the manufactured substance called GR 650 that can be spin-coated on a surface that, once patterned using X-ray lithography, can be then turned into glass by a thermodynamic process.

"Once we convert this material to glass, we obtain both durability and the ability to form miniature lens components into whatever shape an application may require," Coane said.

The patent, which was applied for in December 1999 and issued March 30 of this year, offers the opportunity to be used in biomedical applications, Coane said.

Ideas include using the invention for endoscopes, a medical instrument that can examine the interior of a bodily organ, or for medical implants.

Coane said the process will make glass lenses that are one millimeter in size or smaller.

"Now that the technology is protected [with a patent], we can talk about it openly with the industry, and it won't be stolen," Coane said.

The research trio is currently looking for investors to whom they may introduce their application.

"We can't just sit back in the stage we're at," Coane said. "We have to search and see where this [invention] might fit in. If it can make existing or future technology work better and cheaper, [investors] will be interested in it."

Coane also said that because Tech is the owner of this patent, the results will benefit the university.

"Expanding Louisiana Tech's patent portfolio is very important," Coane said. "It shows [we've] got a lot of valuable research going on, which in turn will enhance Tech's visibility to the research and development community."

Tom Noble, executive director of the Research Foundation and director of technology transfer, said this opportunity is great for the university.

"[The invention] is important because it will attract and attain world researchers to the university," Noble said.

"Hopefully, we will benefit from this by attracting and retaining new world-class faculty and business partners."

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