November 2012

Camera Technology Like No Other

More than meets the eye.

Dr. Adam Fontecchio’s work proves that adage every day. Dr. Fontecchio’s research focuses on nano-photonics and new methods of nano-manufacturing, including electro-optics, liquid crystals, inkjet printing of polymers, and flexible electronics. But he speaks most often of his work along the visual spectrum.

An associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and an associate dean of engineering for undergraduate affairs in the College of Engineering, Dr. Fontecchio received a $750,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a camera technology, known as hyper spectral imaging, in partnership with a company called Optra Inc. Dr. Fontecchio considers this among his greatest achievements.

“Designed to help fight against bioterror, this camera can identify the precise mix of component colors from the creation of a bioterror agent,” explains Dr. Fontecchio. “The colors of gases are typically too faint to be seen by the human eye but hyper spectral imaging is able to determine precise wavelengths and see the gases by turning on filters that look for specific colors of gases.”

The next frontier in his work centers on holographic optical elements, also known as HoE. It is a holographic lens, which replaces the need for physical glass and other moving parts that can become damaged or wear out. In time, it will likely have consumer value. However, until the technology becomes more financially attractive for the local electronics store, expect to see it in commercial uses such as with geologists or NASA engineers.

“This technology is real right now and the potential is limitless,” Dr. Fontecchio says. “For instance, a future generation NASA telescope could look farther and deeper than currently possible. Plus, because there would be fewer moving parts, repairs would be far less onerous.”

He’s also working with Dr. Genevieve Dion, assistant professor and Fashion Design Program Director of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, to develop transparent antennas into various materials. Using a special printing technique, conductive polymers can be coated onto glass, plastic, fabrics or other materials.

“Once coated onto the surface of clothing, the antennas can be used by cellphones and other wireless applications and are safe to wear and washable,” says Dr. Fontecchio. “WiFi networks, Bluetooth connectivity and RFID tagging will probably come first, but in 10 to 15 years, what we’re imaging today will become part of everyday life.”