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Crystal clear winner: ucf professor awarded top optics prize

A University of Central Florida researcher who developed the technology that enables cell phone and computer screens to be bright and clear enough to be seen in all kinds of light is being recognized by the nation’s premier optics society.

Shin-Tson Wu, provost-distinguished professor of optics, has been selected to receive the Joseph Fraunhofer/Robert M. Burley Prize for exceptional contributions to optical engineering through liquid crystal displays, tunable photonics devices and adaptive focus lenses.

Wu and his Liquid Crystal Displays lab team at UCF’s College of Optics and Photonics conduct research on the process that enables flat-screen displays to produce images increasingly close to real life.

In the intensely competitive global market for the next generation of displays for use in everything from cell phones, computer screens and television sets to medical devices, data projectors and yet-to-come 3D TVs, Wu and his team are providing the foundational research that many manufacturers don’t have the time or the resources to conduct themselves.

“At the university, we have more time to think” about methods of improving technology, Wu said.

He oversees a team of post-doctoral and graduate students who are working on the underlying facets of producing the crystal clear images.

Tracy Xu and Yifan Liu work on creating lenses that use liquid crystals or liquid that could replace glass or plastic and be integrated into display screens for clearer focus. Meizi Jiao, Linghui Rao and Yan Li work on improving the technology that leads to thin, clear and wide screens, and Hamidreza Shirvani Mahdavi is conducting research on how lasers can speed up processing times.

The goal of their combined work is the development of fast-response liquid crystals that will enable red, green and blue LED light, the light that is commonly used in everything from Christmas decorations to traffic lights, to create a vivid rainbow of colors without using a color filter.

All of these efforts could result in products with resolutions and optical efficiency that are three times better than what’s currently available. That would lead to lower power consumption and lower electric bills. Manufacturers can use the technology to produce larger displays, screens capable of 3-D imagery and medical devices that can more efficiently detect tumors.

The technology can be retrofitted into existing products, eliminating the need for extensive fabrication work.  “If we can demonstrate a fast response time in the lab, the manufacturers will be able to implement it very quickly in their products,” Wu said.

Wu has co-authored six books, earned 60 U.S. patents and received many awards, including the 2008 SPIE G. G. Stokes award and 2008 SID Jan Rajchman prize. 

Before he arrived at UCF in 2001 Wu worked at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, Calif., where, among other innovations, he developed the reflective display technology used by Nintendo. 

Now he jokingly asks his son for royalty fees when he sees him playing the game.

The Fraunhofer Award was established in 1982 in recognition of Joseph von Fraunhofer, a German optician known for discovering dark absorption lines, now known as Fraunhofer lines, in the sun’s spectrum.  It is accompanied by a $3,000 prize to honor the memory of Robert Burley, the first recipient of the Fraunhofer award.   Wu says he is indebted to UCF, the sponsors of his research and his team members for contributing to the recognition, which he will receive at the annual meeting of the Optical Society of America this fall in Rochester, N.Y.

By Barb Abney
March 29, 2010


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