Like a mad scientist from a 1950s science fiction film, Edward Kinzel spends his days in the lab shooting lasers at glass. Kinzel’s laser isn’t a weapon, though. He uses it to melt the glass in a unique 3-D printing application designed to make high-tech optical glass for use in various lenses. 

Kinzel, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, uses a carbon dioxide laser to produce a beam of infrared light that can melt glass with pin-point accuracy, allowing the glass to flow and be formed into various shapes. The process is known as printing gradient-index optics.

With funding from Lockheed Martin and S&T’s Materials Research Center, Kinzel and his Ph.D. student Junjie Luo are working to produce lenses that can be used in high-powered cameras, like ones found on search-and-rescue planes. The lens’ high power-to-weight ratio will allow for further advances in the field of aerospace optics.

For now, Kinzel’s research is limited to smaller pieces, but he believes it can eventually be used in other additive manufacturing processes as a cheaper alternative to silicon. Not limited to scientific uses, the technique could even be used to inexpensively produce objects of art using glass.

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