Adaptive optics is a specialized area in engineering that isn't taught in many engineering schools, including UNM, but an undergraduate team working on a senior design project has built and tested an experimental system with financial assistance from Northrop Grumman.
Adaptive optics has a number of uses. It was originally developed by the U.S. Air Force for ground based lasers and satellite imaging. Other applications use a form of the technology to explore the interior of the retina as a way to search for the beginnings of eye disease. Another application removes distortion in the atmosphere so astronomers can see stars much more clearly.
The technology was originally developed in a military setting at the Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, by researchers seeking to remove atmospheric distortion so that lasers could be aimed more effectively. Northrop Grumman was part of that development process and has a strong interest in developing engineers with some background in the technology. This is the first time they have funded a senior design team project at UNM.
The UNM senior design team had to start from scratch, learning about the technology itself and then the underlying mathematical calculations that support it. One team member said it took them awhile to figure out what kind of math to use. But the result of this year long effort is a test bed for adaptive optics at UNM.
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