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AlphaMicron's curved surface crystals gain attention of Air Force, snowboarders

In 1997, Bahman Taheri, Tamas Kosa and Peter Palffy were researchers at Kent State University's Liquid Crystal Institute. Then the U.S. Air Force came calling -- and the trio became businessmen.

The resulting company, AlphaMicron, Inc., set out to solve a nagging problem with the forward positioning of flight deck displays, says Kosa. Specifically, military pilots in a dogfight must always look forward, unable to turn their heads to look outside.

What if you projected the data on the inside of a pilot's visor instead? Problem one: No one had the technology to place a liquid crystal display on a curved surface like a visor. Problem two: The data needed to be visible even with the sun shining in the pilot's eyes. And it couldn't go dark if the pilot ejected.

"Our response was, let's start a company," says Kosa, now AlphaMicron's chief operating officer. (Taheri became AlphaMicron's chief executive officer and Palffy, who remains on staff at Kent State, is what Kosa describes as "a silent partner.")

AlphaMicron, based in Kent, solved the first problem by developing the world's only liquid crystal technology for curved surfaces. While the firm continues to perfect technology needed for a usable military visor, the 35-employee company is making waves with a line of "switchable" goggles that allow skiers and snowboarders to adjust to prevailing conditions.

Sun too bright? Push a button and dim your lenses. Sun behind a cloud? Push it again. Developed in collaboration with Uvex Sports in 2004, the goggles won a Popular Science "Best of What's New" award in 2004. Similar technology is now being used to commercialize switchable visors for other sports eyewear and motorcycle helmets, Kosa said.

Source: Tamas Kosa, AlphaMicron
Writer: Gene Monteith

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