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Technical Activities Report

The Optical Technology Division's goal is providing the foundation for optical radiation measurements for our Nation. Thus, our programs focus on developing and providing national measurement standards and services to advance optical technologies spanning the terahertz through the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet spectral regions. 

Strategic Elements:
  • Maintain and advance optical radiation standards based on the SI units

  • Advance optical radiation measurement science to solve problems in critical and emerging technology areas of national importance

  • Disseminate optical radiation measurement technology and standards to industry, government, and academia

Optical measurement methods

The Division strives to improve the accuracy, quality, and utility of optical measurements in burgeoning technology areas, such as nanotechnology, biological and medical physics, climate change, quantum information, and national and homeland security. In the area of nanotechnology, quantum dot, nanoshell, metal, and magnetic nanoparticles are being developed for use as quantitative probes to interrogate and manipulate chemical, physical, and biological phenomena within complex chemical and biological systems. Raman spectroscopy is being applied to the characterization of carbon nanostructures, such as nanotubes and graphene. Well-characterized nanomaterial samples have the potential to serve as standards for researchers exploring physical, chemical, and biological applications of nanomaterials and their environmental, health, and safety effects.

The Division is also advancing the measurement science of optical medical imaging for surgical and clinical applications. Optical medical imaging promises to enhance and complement conventional medical imaging modalities that are too expensive for routine use or too complex and slow for surgical applications. The Division’s program includes developing advanced digital tissue phantoms to calibrate and compare optical medical imaging systems, particularly hyperspectral imaging systems, and enhancing illumination methods to improve visual and imaging system contrast.

Climate-change research places some of the most stringent demands on optical radiation measurement due to the need to quantify extremely small changes in the average incident solar radiation, reflected solar radiation, and outgoing infrared radiation over decadal and longer time scales. In response to these measurement demands, the Division has developed expertise in space sensor calibration and standards in support of the satellite programs of NASA, NOAA, and the USGS, such as the NPOESS, GOES-R, LDCM, and CLARREO missions. The Division also works with land- and sea-based sensor programs to help ensure measurement accuracy and quality. A new effort has been initiated to apply this expertise to improve the Nation’s multibillion-dollar ground- and space-based astronomical measurements for applications to satellite calibration, atmospheric remote sensing, large-scale sky surveys, dark energy studies, and cosmology research.

The Division has a long history of supporting our Nation’s national defense by working with the Calibration Coordination Group of the Department of Defense to ensure that the standards needs of the military are met in the area of optical radiation measurement. Specialized calibration chambers have been developed to mimic the cold thermal background of space, to ensure the comparability and accuracy of the sensor measurements of the Missile Defense Agency and its aerospace contractors.

Expertise in optical radiation standards for defense is being applied to homeland security applications too. Techniques are being developed to improve the detection of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the protection of civilian aircraft from shoulder-fired missiles. Single-photon source and detector metrologies are being advanced for application in quantum communication and quantum cryptography. This may eventually allow all of the Division’s fundamental radiation measurements to be tied to quantum-based standards.


Reverse micelleNew method for detecting motions of aqueous biomolecules – The ability of biomolecules to flex and bend is important for their function within living cells. Until recently, researchers interested in understanding how biomolecules such as DNAs and proteins function...

scatterometryShape evolution of nanoscale patterns – Division researchers successfully demonstrated the application of scatterometry to monitor, in situ, pattern profiles made by thermal embossing nanoimprint lithography. In addition to obtaining...

Hyperspectral imageAdvances in hyperspectral image projection – Measuring global climate change with remote sensing instruments requires excellent knowledge of their sensors’ performance. For such evaluations, Division scientists have successfully demonstrated...

Field MeasurementsNear-infrared reflectance standards for satellite remote sensing – Accurate reflectance standards in the solar radiation band from the ultraviolet (250 nm) through the shortwave infrared (2500 nm) are important for calibrating satellite measurements of surface albedo...

HightWalker_Nanoparticles_sm_thumbnailTuning the properties of engineered cobalt nanoparticles – Cobalt nanoparticles possess large magnetic moments and unique catalytic properties. Potential applications for these nanomaterials exist in information storage, energy, and medicine.


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General Information:
Gerald Fraser, Division Chief
301-975-3797 Telephone

Tina Pipes, Division Secretary
301-975-2316 Telephone

Arvella Kuehl, Administrative Specialist
301-975-2165 Telephone

100 Bureau Drive, M/S 8440
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8440
301-869-5700 Facsimile