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Optics and lasers bag Euro 2 million contract

17 Jun 2002

A European consortium of organisations is to work on faster optical sensors.

The European Commission has awarded a Euro 2 million research, technology and development contract for the development of faster and more efficient optical detectors to a consortium of European organizations. The contract was won by Sussex University in the UK, together with two UK companies, Photek and Electron Tubes. The Laser Centrum in Hanover, Germany, the Autonoma University of Madrid and CIEMAT in Spain, and Novara Technology in Italy also won contracts.

The project, named "Impecable" (Improved Photon Efficient Cathodes with Applications in Biological Luminescence), will concentrate on the development of faster and more efficient optical detectors, leading to their production by Photek and Electron Tubes. Existing applications for photon counting, detection and imaging are already widespread, but the thrust of the new development is expected to increase the value of optical detectors in medical diagnostics. The work will focus on the detection of light that is emitted during biological processes and from luminescence which distinguishes between healthy and diseased cells.

The impetus for the project arose partly from a 10-year collaboration between Photek and Professor Townsend at Sussex University. Townsend constructed a world-leading system for the spectral analysis of thermoluminescence based on the Photek photon counting camera. The equipment has helped to advance research into new optical and photonic materials and is also being applied to problems in mineralogy and geological dating.

The researchers say that now there is a need to improve the sensitivity of the system for long-wavelength (near infrared) signals and to increase the sensors' speed.

The detection of low light levels is critical to a variety of industrial, scientific and medical applications, including steel thickness measurements, the identification of oil-bearing rock, the detection of neutrinos from the Sun and astronomical observations of distant stars.

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