This Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase II project will culminate in a new form of 3D lithography capable of fabricating imaging arrays and photonic-crystal waveguides that are cheaper, higher performance, lighter, more flexible and have capabilities not currently possible with current ?stack and draw? manufacturing. For example, by directly fabricating these parts at the micron scale, perturbations such as global scaling (to implement magnifying arrays), global rotation (to implement image inverters) or local scaling (to implement modal tapers or integrated lenslets) can be created in a single process step. Unlike current methods which must draw out a minimum of km from a preform, here single parts can be cm in length. The imaging arrays have significant commercial potential as replacements for current endoscopes, fiber face plates and image inverters. They also enable new markets including inexpensive eye monitoring for clinical and public safety applications, wearable gaze-tracking for human-computer interface for paralysis victims, and ultra lightweight heads-up displays for military and consumer entertainment. The team will develop both the lithography and materials to create these all-polymer imaging cables.

The transport and manipulation of optical images is ubiquitous but nearly uniformly implemented with delicate, rigid lens trains. Discrete imaging devices such as fiber bundles are sufficient for modern digital displays and cameras and are naturally robust, but currently limited by cost and capability. By enabling flexible, lightweight transport of discrete images, the results will impact ? Education, Medical and Biological Research and Macular Degeneration. The Phase I including supplementary funding has partially funded 7graduate, 1 post-doc and two undergraduate students. An exchange of graduate students with Dublin Ireland extended this impact. The lithography system has been used in multiple undergraduate class projects and for multiple cross-disciplinary graduate research programs. Disposable endoscopes with high resolution, small diameter and large field of view exceed current capabilities at much lower costs. Zenwa has signed a collaborative agreement with the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute to develop a lightweight customized image delivery system to restore sight to the severely vision impaired.

Project Report

Zenwa, Inc. has served as the principal investigator organization with the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) performing as the subcontracting research organization. Supporting subcontractors have been Johns Hopkins University and the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute of San Francisco. The objectives of this program were to develop a new form of 3D lithography capable of fabricating imaging arrays and photonic-crystal waveguides that would be cheaper, higher performance, lighter, more flexible and have capabilities not currently possible with legacy technology for fabricating imaging elements. The underlying focus was to develop a capability for selectively changing the index of refraction of the optical material, a departure from traditionally changing the shape and thickness to create a lens. The program objectives was to find applications in new markets that could benefit from the lower cost / superior quality lenses that resulted from this innovation. In furthering the broader impact goals on NSF in the areas of: Education – This Phase II development has resulted in and supported research work resulting in four PhD thesis. The program and its extensions have supported six regular graduate student researchers, nine visiting graduate researchers and four undergraduate researchers. These students have produced 12 journal publications include one in Science and one in the Nature family. The work has been presented at nine invited and 18 peer-reviewed conference proceedings. These presentations generated five best-student presentation awards at OSA, SPIE and IEEE-sponsored conferences. In addition to student awards, the results of the program have been recognized with five awards to the CU PI, including the NSF CAREER and Intel Outstanding Researcher. Mentoring – A Post Doc mentoring supplement granted to Zenwa resulted in sponsoring a researcher on a two year program. A second mentoring supplement resulted in Zenwa assisting a small business firm in securing two phase I and one Phase II SBIR awards within an 18 month period. One of the graduate students on the program has founded his own company under an NSF Mentorship program from Zenwa and has exercised an option on the metrology patents. Diversity – The principal investigator organization is the first Native American firm to be awarded a STTR grant in the 30 year history of the NSF-SBIR/STTR program. The first black female to earn a Physics PhD in the State of Colorado contributed as a Post Doc in this development IP generation - Most importantly for this STTR program, six patents have been generated and filed. The majority have been licensed to Zenwa, the STTR prime. In developing the change of index of refraction technology we discovered a light reflection phenomena that related to glare and halos in polymer ophthalmic lenses that are common in vision correction applications in contact, phakic and intraocular lenses. We focused our research to address ophthalmic applications and have processes four patents covering fabrication techniques that significantly mitigate the optical limitations of current lenses. We also discovered that our method of changing the index of refraction of the material enabled creating lenses represented a major advancement for vision correction uses. Further, we refined our light activated lens fabrication process to allow writing lens prescriptions with for higher order aberrations that could be done in-vivo and invented a process to re-write the lenses multiple times. This discovery allows re-writing power settings and wavefront corrections in-vivo to correct for natural changes within the eye over time. Our technology allows creating superior quality lenses that replace the natural crystalline lenses that become clouded with age with gradient index refractive lenses (GRIN) that closely resembles the replaced natural lenses. Exploiting the multi rewrite technology for vision correction in the phakic lens market space represents a disruptive innovation. The product will be a family of phakic lenses that can be written in-vivo multiple times, will have vision correcting quality equal to or superior to Lasik surgery, will be an alternative to externally worn contact lenses, and in most cases eliminate the need for conventional eye glasses. Once implanted, the lenses can be adjusted over time eliminating the need for explanation due to initial surprise - less than optimum, power settings or changes that occur with age. Zenwa is currently commercializing the technology developed under this NSF STTR, through the establishment of development, commercialization collaboration and licensing agreements in several fields of use of ophthalmic lenses, including contacts, intraocular, phakic and eye glasses. The global markets that we address are $110B for glasses and $15B for contact and IOL lenses. We are in discussions with major leading vision correction firms in each of the fields of use. Our implementation team will include several of the PhD candidates who contributed to this development and will continue in the commercialization and technology transfer process.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP)
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Joseph E. Hennessey
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Zenwa Inc
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