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Laser Bioeffects Research a Dazzling SBIR Success

By Dr. Jeff Oliver 711th Human Performance Wing

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WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – A research team from Air Force Research Laboratory's 711th Human Performance Wing recently completed the first-ever documentation of a phenomena imparting key insights into the effects of lasers on biological systems. Led by Dr. Benjamin Rockwell, the Human Effectiveness Directorate-based Ophthalmic Imaging and Laser Damage team recorded the near-infrared-laser-induced occurrence of thermal lensing in a mammalian eye. The results, which will be published in a peer-reviewed publication, will dramatically advance the concepts behind AFRL's "daytime dazzler," a nonlethal option for disrupting adversarial action via disorienting flashes of laser light.

For their experiment, the researchers tuned a laser to the wavelength of 1150 nm and then coaxially aligned the device with the beacon laser from an adaptive optics confocal scanning laser ophthalmoscope system. They used the AOcSLO system's integral wavefront sensor to minimize eye aberrations in the imaging path, additionally holding a deformable mirror in the viewing path at this best visible-focus position. The team then delivered a 1 sec laser pulse (exposure) to the eye, using the wavefront sensor to record the thermally induced phase changes provoked in the ocular media by the NIR laser.

It was via Small Business Innovation Research Phase II effort that the technology demonstration units leveraged for this Phase III experiment were originally created. Physical Sciences, Inc., one of the technical providers, has since delivered several additional units built upon the platform initially developed for the Air Force. Consequently, installation of this technology has extended into academia (e.g., Indiana University, the University of Texas Medical Branch), as well as to other government labs (e.g., the Food and Drug Administration). While production volume may be lower than in more "typical" Phase III projects, which traditionally receive System Program Office sponsorship, the systems resulting from this Phase III effort nonetheless represent high-dollar (~$200K) installations, generating considerable revenue for the provider and adding significant imaging capabilities for recipient research laboratories.