Physics professor guides students through the experience of taking a discovery from lab to market

Graphic showing different research terms
Graphic showing different research terms
A. Kumarakrishnan
A. Kumarakrishnan

Taking a discovery to market is one of the most exciting aspects of a research career. That’s the case for students working in Professor Anantharaman Kumarakrishnan’s laboratory research team in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Faculty of Science at York University.

The group has been developing a new class of lasers known as continuous wave lasers that are more cost efficient to manufacture and have a better stability than traditional lasers used in gravimetry, a highly precise technique involving measurements of gravitational acceleration that is used in natural resource exploration.

“This is a student driven project,” says Kumarakrishnan (who goes by Kumar) explaining that students in his lab felt they could significantly refine the current technology. Under his guidance they did just that and encouraged by Kumar, the students are now involved in the commercialization of their new laser. “It is very important to learn the all the steps in this process,” says Kumar, noting they have filed a patent for their new laser.

The group has developed a highly stable laser with applications ranging from studies of ultracold atoms to industrial instrumentation that is less expensive than previous models and it performs just as well, says Kumar. “Consider a clock, when you make a clock, the only way to know if that clock is any good is to compare it to better clock. That’s what we have done by comparing this laser with other laser standards.”

student working in a lab with a lazer
Graduate Student Matthew Weel aligning Titanium:Sapphire Ring Laser

Kumar and his research group are building on a previous round of funding for laser development amounting to $169,000 awarded from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Ontario Centres for Excellence (OCE), which they received in 2013-14 to successfully secure additional support amounting to $110,000 through the NSERC Idea to Innovation Fund, and an and OCE Voucher for Innovation and Productivity programs to continue the refinement of their laser prototypes.

The laser systems have established a reliable record of performance and commercialization will be undertaken by a York-based and York-owned startup company – Northwood Photonics – involving several members of Kumar’s research team. Assisting them every step of the way has been Hassan Jaferi, York University’s manager of commercialization.

“It’s really a case of taking a discovery that is more efficient and less expensive from lab to market,” says Kumar. And while it is a niche technology, he adds, the learning outcomes and life lessons are enormous for students who are involved in every stage of the commercialization process in a highly relevant experiential education initiative.

To learn more, visit the Kumar lab online.