When you hear about these new military sunglasses, you’ll want a pair

Photochemical scientists from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, together with an R & D company, have developed — for the Defense Department — lenses t...

Anyone with so-called transition eyeglass lenses knows that they take forever to darken when you go outside. They also take quite a while to lighten up when you go inside. Now, photochemical scientists from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, together with an R & D company, have developed — for the Defense Department — lenses that go from light-to-dark and dark-to-light, in the blink of an eye. For more, Federal Drive with Tom Temin  spoke with BGSU distinguished professor Dr. Jayaraman Sivaguru.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin So tell us what you’ve done here. First of all, tell us for whom this was done and the partnership with industry and the government that is leading to this product.

Jayaraman Sivaguru So this technology was developed by an Ohio based company called AlphaMicron. And the initial project began as a small business technology transfer grant that was awarded to AlphaMicron from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. And it evolved to include three universities from Ohio: Bowling Green State University, Kent State University and Miami University. After we did the initial project study and feasibility, we were funded by a foreign grant, which is an Ohio Federal Research Network grant, which essentially aims to stimulate Ohio’s economy through strategic partnership with the university and industry collaborations. With the funding from OFRN we were able to pull all of this technology that was initially from the studio. grant.

Tom Temin Got it. And what was the Defense Department seeking, do you think? In the first place? I mean, what’s the purpose of this?

Jayaraman Sivaguru So the purpose is to leverage the liquid crystal technology that was pioneered by AlphaMicron, where you can develop films for eyewear and eye protection that can be electronically dimmed. In other words, you can just press a switch and then you can go from completely clear or mostly clear to a dark state so that the transmission can be modulated.

Tom Temin And in the dark state, it meets the requirements for UV protection and so forth that apply to normal sunglasses.

Jayaraman Sivaguru Yeah, it essentially become dark, just like how you detail in the transition lenses. So it prevents UV light. And also the eventual idea is if somebody is shining high intensity light you are temporarily blinded. So you just fitted it on essentially that that’ll be prevented. This essentially comes in handy for law enforcement, etc..

Tom Temin But it does require the pushing of a physical switch to make it happen?

Jayaraman Sivaguru That’s correct. That is a button right on one of the arms on the side.

Tom Temin The earpiece, I think I call it.

Jayaraman Sivaguru I think you call a what is a stem the stem of the glasses. So it is on the stem of the glasses and that you essentially press the button and then it just changes from one state to another state.

Tom Temin And is this technology embedded in the lenses or is it something that is layered on top of an existing lens?

Jayaraman Sivaguru No, no, no. It is essentially liquid crystal technology. So it is part of a film in the lens. So it is essentially the liquid crystal itself serves as a transition between two different states.

Tom Temin Got it. And can this be applied to prescription eyewear or simply goggles that would be for someone that’s got contacts or 20/20 vision?

Jayaraman Sivaguru In principle, it can be done. At least that is my understanding. But again, once we go towards prescription lenses, it is something that needs some more development.

Tom Temin But you’re getting interest from DoD to actually purchase these?

Jayaraman Sivaguru So already we did a demonstration about this prototype. I tried practice in the Air Force base last fall. We take input from them. You know how to design these things. There are strict criteria that we have to satisfy, etc. That is something which was very valuable to us when we designed this particular prototype.

Tom Temin We are speaking with Dr.Jayaraman Sivaguru. He’s distinguished university professor at Bowling Green State University. And you mentioned also law enforcement has expressed interest in this technology.

Jayaraman Sivaguru It’s not that they have expressed interest, but this particular technology can be useful to them because let’s say that somebody is shining a highly intense light at your eyes, the temporary blindness can be a big issue. So this particular technology where you can essentially go to a dark state where the transmission of light can be completely prevented, or mostly prevented will help you see through that particular aspect. So definitely for first responders, it is something which might be very handy.

Tom Temin Or if you’re outside patrolling in the daylight and you have to run into a tunnel or a scurvy looking bar or a cave or something, then you can go to light just as fast.

Jayaraman Sivaguru Yes, exactly. So it’s a completely transparent state where in dark mode, you go to the light mode again, press the same button, it changes to a different mode. So you have the much better transmission than somebody is venturing into a dark space.

Tom Temin And you mentioned this is an STTR program. Tell us who has custody or rights to the intellectual property resulting from this.

Jayaraman Sivaguru This technology is belongs to AlphaMicron, the company. So essentially they are the one who awarded this particular grant, STTR, and then that grant, it will all do this. OFRN grant the Ohio Federal Research Network grants, and that they leverage the expertise of the three Ohio universities, like I mentioned, BGSU, Kent and Miami University of Ohio, bringing in the expertise of faculty to help them develop this technology. So the technology belongs to the company.

Tom Temin And will they license it or otherwise make it available to people like Maui Gym and Ray-Ban and the popular.

Jayaraman Sivaguru I’m not sure about what their plans are, but they do have commercialized these things. That is something, a question for the company. We have visited the company during our visits there. They have commercialized some of these aspects. So that is a question for the company itself.

Tom Temin Sure, we’ll ask them too, but definitely the military looks like it would like to have this for its operators.

Jayaraman Sivaguru Yeah. So that is the goal of the program. The stated goal is how we can satisfy the criteria set for outright for the national space. So we are able to accomplish what was set as our goal.

Tom Temin Now, my understanding of commercial lenses that do this the slower way, however they work, they can also go halfway.

Jayaraman Sivaguru Yeah. So the commercial lens is slightly different technology. They have a compund that are coated on the lens. These are called photochromic compounds. In other words, what are the material that is coated interacts with light. They will change its shape and once it change its shape, it changes its color. It can be from dark to light or light to dark. And one of the ways that it changes is when it encounters UV light. It can go from a light state to a dark state, and then from the dark state to light, light state you can either reverse it by shining visible light or just by cooling it down by heat, thermal process. So both of them are available. So these compounds are called photochromic compounds. So this technology is slightly different. These are based on liquid crystals. And they essentially switch back and forth between the two states by the electrical signal.

Tom Temin And with regard to that mechanical switch that someone has to touch to make it change,- any chance that you’re looking into, say, a light operated switch where if you go outside, the light would not a liquid crystal, but the light would cause the switch to activate and vice versa.

Jayaraman Sivaguru One can suddenly do it. You can have a light sensor that can essentially activate the switch and then it can go from one state to another state. It’s just a matter of manipulating the electronics, in terms of how one can switch between the two states.

Tom Temin And looking at the information you’ve published about this, they’re pretty snazzy looking. I mean, they’re not just something that looks like you would put it in a laboratory, but it looks like something you could actually wear outside and not look so bad in.

Jayaraman Sivaguru Yeah, exactly. The final product, the prototype, looks nice. But even in the article that we have published on BGSU’s website, you can see these are small, square looking models. So our development, we’re done using those type of model systems where you evaluate how these things behave upon exposure to light. What are all that stability. How can you enhance the stability? So those were done like a lab type experiment and then the company has the expertise to translate these things. So this is where the partnership between university that can provide a fundamental knowledge in these type of systems and get translated to something which is useful part of society. I think it’s a fantastic partnership that we are able to utilize here.

Tom Temin Any chance of making an entire automobile windshield out of this stuff.

Jayaraman Sivaguru In the company, when we went, they have some fantastic technology. They make not only windshields, but also windows that can be you can essentially command Alexa or, for example, Siri, and you can say change to this color and it’ll change the color so the company has the expertise to do it.

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