The proliferation of photonic sensors and optoelectronic devices for both military and civil applications has no end in sight. From the warfighter on deployment to the commanding officers in the Pentagon, the Department of Defense wants more eyes on the battlefield. Operational needs range from troop-level LIDAR devices to optical and infrared sensors that feed tactical battlefield management systems to early-warning and detection of missile threats from space. Defense researchers are increasingly studying optical computing and other integrated photonic devices to reduce the vulnerability of traditional military electronic devices to jamming and electronic attack. In the civil sector, including NASA, photonic device applications include laser rangefinding, photonic gyroscopes, spectroscopy, and optical communications. For example, the upcoming Laser Communications Relay Demonstration on the ISS, called ILLUMA, relies on a first-of-its-kind integrated photonics circuit to transmit and encode data at orders of magnitude higher rates than traditional digital systems. Future integrated photonics circuits can be lithographically printed on large single optical crystals, much as integrated microelectronic circuits are lithographically printed on semiconductor crystals today.
Demand for optical sensors, laser equipment, and optical switches for computing and communications continues to grow. Nonlinear optical materials alone represent a market of more than $1 billion in the optoelectronics sector. Semiorganic NLO materials are being investigated for fiber optic communications components, laser transmitters, computer memory devices, improved LIDAR, ultrafast optical switches, optical waveguides, and image sensors for automotive-safety systems, medical equipment, video security and surveillance networks, human-recognition user interfaces, and other embedded image collection devices. Technical adviser Dr. Gregory Wurtz assesses that the benign production environment and flexibility in designing their nonlinear optical properties lends microgravity-enabled optical crystals towards applications in deep UV lasers for medical devices and the development of thin film materials for active nanoscale devices that are not currently easily fabricated.