Monday, May 2, 2011

Small, Mountain-Town Mecca for Optics Research

(Above: Big Sky Laser series compact Q-Switched, Nd:YAG from Quantel Laser. Author's note: may not be best to combine beautiful Montana stream with Nd:YAG)

I am likely showing my naivete as a "young" optics researcher, but after my Super Shuttle ride from the airport to my hotel last night, I felt compelled to say something about Bozeman, Montana. And no, I'm not being paid by Bozeman's Chamber of Commerce (though if you are paying attention Bozeman, an all-expenses-paid visit to Bozeman could convince me to write more about your town whose combination of optics innovation and gorgeous backdrop is causing me to want to pack up my bags and head out West to Big Sky Country.)

What peaked my interest about Bozeman were two passengers in my Blue Van who were employed by Bozeman optics companies. I knew ILX Lightwave was out of Bozeman, but didn't realize that was just the beginning. One of the passengers was an HR rep from Quantel. Note to job seekers: Quantel-Medical, which makes laser systems for ophthamology and dermatology, is looking to fill several positions. Find out more information at the CLEO Job Fair.

My surface internet searching led me to make a stab at a list of photonics companies in Bozeman (a booth number adjacent lets you know that they will be at the expo which opens at 9:45 am tomorrow):

AdvR (booth 1330)
Altos Photonics (booth 1225)
Bridger Photonics
ILX Lightwave (booth 1808)
Lattice Materials
Scientific Materials Corp
Quantel (booth 1903)
Quantum Composers

This list, which is by no means complete, is still very impressive given that the population of Bozeman is just under 40 thousand.

So why all the optics in Bozeman? A 2005 article from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle gives credit to Montana State University professors Pat Callis and Rufus Cone for strengthening the optics program in the late 1980's which led the establishment of a handful of companies in 1990, such as ILX Lightwave, Big Sky Laser (now Quantel), and Lattice Materials. To further the growth of optics at MSU and colloboration between industry, OpTec was created in 1995 as a multidisciplinary center for optics research. In 1999, Spectrum Lab was formed to specifically transition photonics research from MSU to Montana companies. Bozeman companies have also been no strangers to Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants to bolster the development of optics start-ups.

Be sure to stop by the Bozeman contingent at the expo, if not to talk optics and photonics, at least to hear adventures of fly-fishing, downhill skiing, rugged hiking, and glacier climbing!


  1. Howdy, Jim! I loved reading your blog about Bozeman especially because it is my hometown area and recently moved back. It would be wonderful if you managed to make it out here--I could show you the sights both natural and optic-al! Good luck at CLEO and come to Bozeman soon!!

    Sara (Maccagnano) Zacher

  2. Sara, I thought of you whizzing through a Friday's NY Times crossword as I wrote the post! I will certainly be in touch if I make it to Bozeman.