April 1, 2002
National Science Foundation director Rita Colwell to visit campus for dedication
of the Center for Adaptive Optics
By Tim Stephens
Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), will visit the campus
in April for the dedication of the NSF-funded Center for Adaptive Optics. During
her visit, Colwell will also meet with UCSC faculty and students, tour the campus,
and give a speech on "Research Trends and Opportunities at NSF."
The multi-institutional Center for Adaptive Optics, headquartered at UCSC, was established
in 1999 as an NSF Science and Technology Center focused on the advancement and application
of adaptive optics technology.
|Rita Colwell has been the National Science Foundation director since 1998.
Photo: National Science Foundation.
Adaptive optics (AO) is used in astronomy and vision science to correct the blurring
of images caused when light travels through an unstable medium. For example, turbulence
in the Earth's atmosphere limits how clearly astronomers can see stars and other
objects with even the largest ground-based telescopes.
Similarly, internal imperfections and fluids in the eye not only affect vision
but also limit the ability of doctors to get a clear view of the retina to diagnose
and correct retinal defects and disease.
"In astronomy, adaptive optics can remove much of the blurring caused by the
atmosphere, giving us the sharpest images of stars, planets, and galaxies ever obtained
with ground-based telescopes. But there are still significant technical challenges
to overcome before we can realize the full potential of this technology," said
Jerry Nelson, director of the Center for Adaptive
Optics and a professor of astronomy and astrophysics.
|The Center for Adaptive Optics is funded by a grant from the National Science
Foundation. Photo: UCSC Photo Services
"We are also seeing some major advances in vision science through the use of
adaptive optics, and we expect to see new ophthalmic instrumentation developed in
the near future," Nelson added.
At the dedication on April 26, the Center for Adaptive Optics will celebrate recent
progress in adaptive optics and the completion of a new headquarters building. The
4,000-square-foot building on Science Hill provides offices and meeting space for
faculty, visiting scientists, students, and administrators.
The center has 28 partner institutions, including universities, national laboratories,
industry partners, and international collaborators. Five UC campuses, the California
Institute of Technology, University of Chicago, University of Houston, University
of Rochester, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are among the
top institutions advancing the science and technology behind adaptive optics. Industry
partners such as Bausch & Lomb and Lucent Technologies are working with the center
to develop practical new devices and implement AO applications in health care and
Researchers affiliated with the center have installed adaptive optics systems on
major telescopes at the Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton, CA, and the W. M. Keck
Observatory in Hawaii. These AO systems use a known source of light as a reference
beacon to measure atmospheric distortions, then remove the distortion by bouncing
the light off a deformable mirror. The measurement and correction of distortions
is repeated hundreds of times per second.
A major advance has been the use of a laser system to create a "virtual"
guide star in the upper atmosphere as the reference light-source. A laser guide star
system developed at LLNL was recently installed on the Keck II Telescope. One of
the challenges for the future will be to devise AO systems that can use multiple
guide stars, Nelson said.
In vision science, researchers have developed prototype instruments that show tremendous
promise for clinical use. Potential applications include improvements in diagnosis
and monitoring of retinal diseases, better contact lenses, and more accurate laser
surgery procedures. The current challenges are to bring down the cost of the AO systems
for vision science and make them durable and reliable enough for routine clinical
The center's education and outreach programs are another major part of its activities.
Focusing on underrepresented groups of students from high school to graduate level,
the programs are designed to attract and retain a new generation of scientists and
engineers. Professional development courses and mentoring programs are offered to
graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.
The Center for Adaptive Optics is funded by a $20 million, five-year grant from NSF,
which is extendable for an additional five years of funding at the same level. The
NSF is the single largest source of funding for research at UC Santa Cruz, currently
supporting 153 active projects with total annual funding of approximately $19 million.
Rita Colwell has been director of the NSF since 1998. She has spearheaded the agency's
emphases in K-12 science and mathematics education, graduate science and engineering
education and training, and increased participation of women and minorities in science
and engineering. Under Colwell's leadership, the agency has supported major new initiatives
in the areas of nanotechnology, biocomplexity, information technology, and the 21st
Before taking the helm at NSF, Colwell was president of the University of Maryland
Biotechnology Institute and professor of microbiology at the University of Maryland.
She holds a B.S. in bacteriology and an M.S. in genetics from Purdue University,
and a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Washington.
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