Localized research

Grant money will help area tech industry build better products

Scott Keeney is keen on supporting technological research at Washington State University Vancouver. The president and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based diode laser maker nLight Photonics knows the value of having a well-funded scientific college near a tech industry cluster, and this year his support could have direct impact on his company.

WSUV Mechanical Engineering Professor Amir Jokar received $27,828 from both nLight and the Washington Technology Center to develop new ways to spill off heat generated from diode laser operation.

On the university end, the grant helps Jokar’s students to tackle problems beyond the classroom.

"This is a great example of how the university and local industry can work together," said Jokar. "This is a real-world project, and the students get very excited about it."

In an email response, Keeney said in addition to being very impressed by the work at WSUV, he believes it is critical to develop a world-class university in our region.

"All the major high-tech clusters in the country are anchored by world-class universities where there is significant interaction between academia and industry," he said.

The project, officially named Micro Fluidic/Thermal Subsystem for High Power Diode Laser Applications, is being conducted by Jokar and graduate research assistant Joe Dix. It will run in three phases, each phase receiving its own set of funding. And like the real world, further funding is contingent upon results.

"It all depends on how phase one goes," said Jokar of the potential for more grant money. "We don’t really know at this time."

Phase one focuses mainly on computational analysis, which Dix is directing. The second and third phases would address system design and application.

On the other end, the grant gives Keeney the potential for valuable breakthroughs. What could come of the research is not only knowledge, but new and better nLight products. Improved heat transfer permits greater power levels, allowing for new applications in defense, the medical industry and even graphic design.

"Heat transfer is critical for us," said Keeney. "Indeed, there are many applications in semiconductors that are limited today by (inefficient) heat transfer."

Industry watchers predict such breakthroughs and the resulting new applications could bring new jobs to Clark County in the next five years. Still, Keeney and others do not have a schedule for the project.

"The development should lead to new products," he said. "However, the detailed timeline will depend on how the initial work progresses."