IRVINE — UC Irvine has landed its second major defense-conversion project involving lasers, and the new, $1.3-million study could result in a new industry in Orange County, a university official said Monday.
"We think this research could lead to commercial companies' manufacturing miniaturized lasers here in Orange County," said Michael Berns, director of UCI's Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic.
"We think there is much feasibility for use of small, shoebox-size lasers in medical practices and this is what our research will be studying during the next two to three years."
The new laser project teams UCI with the federal Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California, operated by the University of California.
The Department of Energy is giving Lawrence Livermore $650,000 for the research, and UCI's Beckman Laser Institute is matching that amount with money it has received in private donations.
Jointly, UCI and the national lab will use the combined $1.3 million to design, build and test small lasers that can be built commercially and used for medical purposes. The work will be done at both places.
Berns said the research is expected to lead to commercial production of lasers that could fill these needs:
* Help in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers.
* Improve processes for test-tube, or in-vitro, fertilization techniques.
* Remove tattoos and some types of birthmarks.
"This project has great potential for advancing the nation's position in laser diagnosis and treatment of disease," Berns said.
Berns noted that Lawrence Livermore has previously done laser research and production for national defense. The new project, Berns said, is part of the national defense-conversion program--finding civilian uses for military technology.
On Oct. 15, UCI announced a somewhat similar defense conversion grant involving lasers. That project involves a $2.5-million U.S. Department of Defense grant to convert "Star Wars" defense lasers to medical uses.
Berns said the laser institute at UCI is a magnet for drawing research money "because we've become the world center for treating patients with use of lasers."
Berns said the two new research projects will not only increase the Beckman Institute's prominence in medical use of lasers but will also increase commercial interest in building and selling such lasers.
"We think that the laser industry will develop right here in Orange County," he said. "It's an industry that will produce new jobs, and that's the goal of these defense conversion programs."