UWP professor leads industry in precision optics care

October 4, 2002

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PLATTEVILLE-Cleaning up in the precision optics industry, University of Wisconsin-Platteville Associate Professor of Chemistry and Engineering Physics James Hamilton recently received a $43,000 grant to continue revolutionary research for cleaning and protecting precision optics and surfaces.

Precision optics and mirrors, used by astronomers and the laser and telecommunication industries, are very costly, ranging from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Over time, dust, fingerprints and microscopic particles degrade image quality and scratch expensive coatings.

"With the high-power lasers in use today, minor contamination can result in the catastrophic destruction of expensive components," Hamilton said. "Historically, optics had been cleaned in two ways, drag wiping and removable strip coatings. In drag wiping, a piece of lens paper is carefully laid on the optic, a drop of methanol is put on the tissue, wetting the surface and the tissue is carefully dragged off. Strip coats are preparations that are applied to optical surfaces as liquids. They dry and are peeled off. All these coatings leave microscopic particles on the surface rendering them unacceptable for astronomical telescopes and high-power laser applications."

Frustrated by the cleaning process, in 1992, Hamilton, along with two California business associates, began researching and developing a polymer coating. By 1999, a coating was developed. Brushed or sprayed onto the optic surface, the polymer coating dries like plastic wrap. Once the polymer is dry, the coating pops off along with dust and other debris.

"Basically, we've developed a way to clean previously uncleanable surfaces," Hamilton said. "The grant we received will allow my students and I to further develop this polymer technology and study surface cleanliness."

Hamilton applied for the grant in February 2002 and received funding in mid-August. Assisting Hamilton on the project this semester will be UWP students Dan Johnson of Eau Claire, John Persons of La Farge, Dan Ewer of Cumberland and Bart Grinwald of Rubicon.

Developing and perfecting the polymer coating not only aids the precision optics industry by saving thousands of dollars in cleaning and valuable time, but students and the University also benefit greatly.

"All testing is done at UWP using our instruments," Hamilton said. "Students get to work with people from the industry and from government labs that they otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to work with. Without our students and the research they've done, we couldn't have developed this polymer."

In December 1999, Hamilton's polymer coating was named product of the year in Sky and Telescope Magazine. The ultimate goal of Hamilton's research is to develop a polymer coating that will clean precision optics on an atomic level.

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