May 26 2003 Posted: 00:00 IST
NUI Galway Scientist wins Optical Society of America award

The Optical Society of America (OSA) has announced that the recipient of its C. E. K. Mees Medal 2003 is Professor Christopher Dainty, of NUI Galway. The award recognizes his achievements in the field of Optics.

The C. E. K. Mees Medal was established in 1961 in memory of C. E. K. Mees,who contributed much to the development of scientific photography, and acknowledges a recipient who exemplifies the thought that optics transcends all boundaries, interdisciplinary and international. Chris Dainty was chosen as the 2003 recipient for his contributions to the understanding and application of speckle phenomena and for leadership in the international optics community.

Professor Dainty is Science Foundation Ireland Professor of Experimental Physics at NUI Galway and is President of the European Optical Society. His research has spanned a wide variety of topics in optical imaging, propagation and scattering. His early work focused on laser speckle and astronomical speckle interferometry. However, by the early 1980s, he became interested in measurement of atmospherically induced scintillation and phase fluctuations, as well as enhanced backscattering from rough surfaces.

More recently, he has been involved in low-cost adaptive optics and its applications, and in the optics of the eye. His advanced research uses novel electronics, computer power and light-sensing devices to improve our view of the world. Known as "adaptive optics", the approach is already being used to enhance the images captured by earth-based telescopes.

Adaptive optics is a technology developed by astronomers to compensate for the deleterious effects of atmospheric turbulence in astronomical imaging. Dainty is applying adaptive optics to the human eye, primarily to produce very high-resolution images of the retina in vivo. Reversing the optical system could provide "super-vision" that would enable people to see better than "20/20".

In the same way that applied optics can clean up a telescope image, Dainty is using the technique to get a clearer view of the back of the retina. A cleaner image of retinal cells can help diagnose disease, but also opens the possibility of sharper vision, he says. Other applications include "line-of-sight" cable-free optical communication links that operate in all weathers, more powerful microscopes and CDs with greatly increased storage capacity.

Dainty's research programme also includes basic and applied studies in the fields of smart optics, light scattering and propagation through random media. Smart optical systems are ones where both the optical elements and the detector are programmable, allowing complex tasks to be performed with potentially very low cost devices: consumer digital cameras are one product area that could benefit from smart optics.

On a related theme, Professor Dainty is also coordinating an EU Research Training Network, "SHARP-EYE" from his base in NUI Galway.