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The purpose of the Center is best summarized by the abstract in the origininal proposal to the NSF.

Adaptive optics is a method for removing the blurring of images caused by changing distortions within optical systems. Turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere causes blurring of astronomical images. In an analogous manner internal imperfections and fluids in the eye cause blurring of images striking the retina. The use of adaptive optics allows groundbased telescopes to see as clearly as if they were in space, and these techniques, when used to look at the retina of the human eye, dramatically sharpen images of the retina.

Although adaptive optics was suggested for astronomy in the 1950s, only today are the requisite technologies (optics, computers, lasers) mature enough for adaptive optics to make an important impact on astronomy and vision science. Adaptive optics for astronomy on large telescopes promises a spectacular improvement in resolution, by factors of 10 to 30. Large ground-based telescopes using adaptive optics can even exceed the performance of the Hubble Space Telescope and at much lower cost. Adaptive optics for vision science promises to correct the aberrations of the eye and to provide a powerful tool for understanding the structure and development of cones and rods in the living human retina. It also holds the promise of diagnosing tiny retinal defects before they become large enough to threaten our a person's vision.

Adaptive optics systems require the marriage of several very advanced technologies--precision optics, wavefront sensors, deformable mirrors, and lasers--all tied together by high-speed control systems.

The Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO) will concentrate on astronomical and vision science applications of adaptive optics and will reach out to other adaptive optics communities to share technologies. It will develop new instruments optimized for adaptive optics. Examples from astronomy include "integral-field" spectrographs that take spectra of thousands of tiny contiguous regions of the sky simultaneously (for studies of distant galaxies and proto-solar-systems), as well as coronagraphs to image very faint objects close to bright ones (for studies of black holes in galaxies and planets around nearby stars). Instruments to be developed for vision science include a confocal scanning laser opthalmoscope, which achieves high depth resolution as well as lateral resolution. This instrument will make possible high-resolution 3-D reconstruction of retinal blood vessels and of optic nerve fibers that carry signals to the brain.

The CfAO will conduct a strong program in science education and outreach, with significant components in the systemic improvement of education, diversification of the trained work force, and enhancement of public scientific literacy.

Last Modified: Jan 17, 2008 

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