CUOS Mission and History

The Center for Ultrafast Optical Science (CUOS) is an interdisciplinary research center in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. CUOS was sponsored as a Science and Technology Centers by the National Science Foundation during 1990-2001. Its mission is to perform multidisciplinary research in the basic science and technological applications of ultrashort laser pulses, to educate students from a wide variety of backgrounds in the field, and to spur the development of new technologies.

CUOS researchers develop optical instrumentation and techniques to generate, manipulate, and detect ultrashort and ultrahigh-peak-power light pulses. They use these ultrashort pulses to study ultrafast physical phenomena in atomic, nuclear, plasma, and materials physics, in solid-state electronics, in high-energy-density physics, and in biomedicine.

Ultrafast science & technology is one of the most exciting fields in science and engineering today. Ultrashort laser pulses are the shortest controlled bursts of energy ever developed. Optical pulses of a few femtoseconds (10-15 seconds) duration can be used to probe the fastest events in atomic, molecular, biochemical, and solid state systems. When amplified to even modest energies, such short pulses can achieve the highest peak powers: the Hercules laser at CUOS holds the world record for on-target laser intensity, at an astonishing 1022 watts per square centimeter. Ultrashort-pulse fiber lasers enable the highest average powers (100-Watt level) available from pulsed laser systems.

Because of these unique properties of ultrashort laser pulses, the field of ultrafast science and technology encompasses a wide range of applications beyond optics and lasers. Optical communications at the terabit level requires pulses in the few-hundred-femtosecond range.High speed electronics and optoelectronics in the terahertz (THz) regime are accessible with femtosecond lasers. The behavior of electrons in quantum structures such as quantum dots, quantum cascade lasers, and nanomaterials may be directly studied. Materials science with nanometer-precision micromachining exploits ultrafast pulses at moderate intensity. Biomedical applications include eye surgery (for example the Intralase process), subcellular “nanomachining,” and invivo sensing (for example in vivo cytometry of circulating cancer cells). At ultrahigh intensity (multi-terawatt peak power), research  frontiers include physics with relativistic plasmas, accelerator beam physics, nuclear physics, high-energy physics, astrophysics, cosmology, and medical applications such as hadron therapy.

CUOS under the joint sponsorship of NSF, UM, CoE and the State of Michigan has been one of the pioneers of this ultrafast optics revolution. For nearly twenty years, CUOS has been a unique and well-recognized incubator for multidisciplinary research. In addition to its research, it has had a major impact on education: more than 150 Ph.D. students have been trained in CUOS laboratories. In addition, CUOS has contributed to developing industries based on its discoveries and inventions. Five companies have been spun off, with four started by former CUOS scientists: Picometrix (fast detectors, S. Williamson and J. Valmanis), Clark-MXR (scientific lasers and micromachining, P. Bado), Translume (waveguide optics, P. Bado) and Intralase (precision surgery, R. Kurtz and T. Juhasz). Most recently Arbor Photonics was founded by CUOS Prof. Almantas Galvanauskas to develop high power fiber laser technology. CUOS has also attracted companies to Ann Arbor such as IMRA-America which has become a leading company in short-pulse fiber lasers. These companies have created numerous high level jobs and developed an ultrafast-optics-based industry with Ann Arbor as its hub. This new industry attracts outstanding scientists to Ann Arbor and benefits from the high-quality students trained at CUOS. The companies have attracted more than $10M over the past ten years in SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) and STTR Programs.

In 2002 CUOS was helpful in attracting one of the NSF Physics Frontier Centers to the University of Michigan – FOCUS (Frontiers in Optical Coherent and Ultrafast Science). As a part of FOCUS, CUOS has built a 300 TWs laser HERCULES. This system has demonstrated the highest intensity ever focused on target and is used to study the fundamental properties of relativistic plasma it produces and for the development of high-energy table top sources of radiation such as electrons, ions, positrons, gamma-rays, x-rays, neutrons, etc. 

In 2004, CUOS added lab space in the newly-built Gerstacker Building which houses the Department of Biomedical Engineering and research space for the Department of Materials Science & Engineering. The addition of these departments next to CUOS is greatly helping to facilitate growing interdisciplinary research efforts in optics, imaging, nanotechnology, biomaterials, and tissue engineering. Faculty from many departments within the College (EECS; Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences; Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences; Materials Science and Engineering; Biomedical Engineering, and Chemical Engineering). CUOS also maintains vigorous interactions with other University Centers, the Michigan Nanofabrication Facility, and the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences (M-NIMBS).