AFRL donates laser optics equipment to UNM

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFRL) – The Air Force Research Laboratory donated optics experiment materials, valued at $1 million to the University of New Mexico (UNM) to provide a state-of-the-art learning experience for graduate students.

The laser equipment will be used in the Experimental Optics Techniques course starting in the spring of 2022. The goal of this donation is to educate and excite the next generation of Directed Energy researchers.

This donation was a part of an Education Partnership Agreement (EPA) with one of New Mexico’s top research institutions. AFRL expects the collaboration will provide practical experience in a field that is often primarily focused on conceptual research.

The EPA was led by AFRL Deputy Program Manager of High Power Microwave Counter-UAS Systems, Capt. James Wymer. The experiment is titled Self-Focusing of a Continuous Wave Laser in a Nonlinear Medium.

“We wanted to invest in the future of Directed Energy,” said Wymer. “Providing these students with this practical experience in their field of study will pay dividends down the line regardless of whether they end up working for AFRL or partners in industry or academia.”

AFRL is always looking for cutting-edge technology and top-tier researchers to join their team. This experiment will help students understand an advanced optics concept in a less complex environment. In addition, they will gain desirable experience to use when they prepare to enter the job market.

“The concept of this process feeds into some of the work that AFRL does in showing how this type of focusing happens,” Wymer said. “Understanding how self-focusing is part of different types of lasers. The physics behind that will prepare these students for mastery of more complex physics concepts such as ultrashort pulse lasers.”

AFRL outlined the experiment concepts and findings for the UNM class to follow as they repeat the experiment with the donated materials in the lab on the UNM campus.

The course will be available to students studying optical science and related fields in graduate programs at UNM.

“These types of efforts help push the technologies on the bleeding edge of innovation into the hands of future AFRL scientists and their collaborators,” Wymer said. “We want students to uncover what is possible with this type of research.”

AFRL hopes that the donation of this experiment to the university will lead future directed energy researchers entering the field feeling well equipped to succeed in their working environments.

“When we look for new team members, we are looking for individuals with experience in working closely with these concepts in a lab setting,” Wymer said. “We do a lot of exploratory research, but having team members with a practical understanding of these concepts will further our capability of moving this type of technology forward in new and innovative ways.”