Norcon is commercializing optical components based on an advanced optical polymer that makes infrared (IR) applications much easier to serve. Whereas conventional infrared optics are made from cumbersome crystals and glasses, we are engineering optical solutions that aim to be “the polycarbonate optics of the IR.”
The problem with today’s crystals and glasses is that the same properties that make them transmissive in the IR inherently also make them unwieldly. Infrared transmission generally requires heavy elements such as germanium and arsenic, which results in IR optics being dense and brittle. These optics are also plagued by a host of other challenges.
The elemental chalcogens – Group VIA in the Periodic Table – are commonly used in IR optics. Norcon has a unique, patented technique for marrying the optical properties of the most abundant and benign chalcogen, sulfur, with the processability of polymers. We call the resulting material polycalc, for polymeric chalcogenide. Polycalc can be molded into a variety of IR optics, just as is done for visible spectrum optics with polycarbonate and PMMA. These simple processes are not available for crystals. For chalcogenide glasses, they are somewhat tedious and costly.
The beachhead market for polycalc optics is the midwave IR (3 to 6 µm). Current midwave optics have high refractive indices, above 2.0. A high refractive index inherently causes undesirable optical performance that handicaps IR systems. These deleterious properties result in long assembly times and degrade reliability. On the other hand, polycalc has a moderate refractive index, in the range of 1.7 to 2.0. This modest index simplifies assembly operations, enhances immunity to vibration and shock, and increases ruggedness.
Norcon is pursuing innovations for serving broader markets. Polycalc is transmissive in windows of the IR other than the midwave. Polycalc can also be easily molded in ways that increase levels of lens integration. These features will soon enable optical sensors that are thinner, lighter, and economically more scalable.
Polycalc was invented at the University of Arizona in 2013. The next year, Professor Robert Norwood -- at the University’s Wyant College of Optical Sciences – demonstrated polycalc's high transmission in the infrared. After working to further develop polycalc, he founded Norcon in 2017. Norcon funding for research into polycalc has come from the Air Force Research Laboratory and the National Science Foundation. Norcon is using this funding to commercialize optics that simplify and expand IR applications. The company is based in Tucson, Arizona and is privately held.