Interview with Dr. Christopher G. Leburn from Chromacity

  • Dr. Christopher G. Leburn - Co-Founder & Commercial Director, Chromacity

GoPhotonics interviewed Dr. Christopher G. Leburn, the Co-Founder and Commercial Director of Chromacity, a leading designer of affordable and compact femtosecond laser solutions as a light source for multi-photon imaging systems and industrial laser applications. Dr. Leburn holds a PhD in laser physics from the University of St Andrews and was awarded a Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship in 2014. He is responsible for the commercial growth of the ultrafast laser manufacturer within academia.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of Chromacity?

Dr. Leburn: Chromacity was founded by Dr Carl Farrell and I, who shared a vision of manufacturing ultrafast lasers, which were affordable and easy-to-use, making them more accessible for researchers to advance scientific discoveries. Less than a year after incorporation, Chromacity launched and sold its first ultrafast fiber-based laser. Chromacity has since developed a suite of ultrafast lasers which are compact, stable and affordable. Today, the Scottish laser manufacturer is disrupting the market with a new generation of plug-and-play optical parametric oscillators (OPOs) which can be installed remotely. Click here to view Chromacity lasers on GoPhotonics.

Q. When was the company founded? Where are you located? And what is your objective?

Dr. Leburn: Chromacity was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Edinburgh. The photonics industry landscape is thriving in Scotland and our mission is to drive advances in microscopy, spectroscopy, and quantum applications by empowering academics and industrial partners with a powerful light source to achieve their research goals.

Q. What types of laser products do you develop?

Dr. Leburn: Chromacity has developed a range of air-cooled ultrafast ytterbium fiber-based lasers, from fixed wavelength femtosecond lasers to tunable picosecond OPOs, which span the near to mid-IR spectral regions.

Q. What differentiates your ultrafast laser products from other manufacturers?

Dr. Leburn: Our manufacturing expertise separates Chromacity from other ultrafast laser manufacturers. Our efficient laser architecture does not generate high thermal loads, avoiding the need for water-cooling, while also occupying less space on the optical bench.

Additionally, the intellectual property, which is key to our unique laser architecture design and manufacturing processes, has enabled Chromacity to develop OPOs that can be drop-shipped and installed remotely with minimal set-up required. Even though remote installation can be achieved with other types of fixed wavelength laser systems, this process is extremely challenging for ultrafast tunable OPOs - given their inherent sensitivity and complexity.

Chromacity is also seeing an increasing shift towards single wavelength sources within life science imaging, particularly within the 920 – 1040 nm region, when conducting multi-photon microscopy. The Chromacity 1040 integrates seamlessly into microscopy set-ups and, because the intracavity beam is confined within a robust fiber, the ultrafast laser is inherently less prone to misalignment when compared against free-space cavities.

Chromacity’s fixed wavelength lasers provide higher average powers and these systems can operate across a wide range of pulse repetition frequencies in comparison to tunable systems like the Ti:sapphire. Combining high power with ultrashort pulse-durations, and at a lower cost of ownership, is the reason why Chromacity’s fixed wavelength laser sources offer an efficient alternative to legacy technologies.

Q. What is an Optical Parametric Oscillator (OPO)?

Dr. Leburn: Leveraging ultrashort pulses and nonlinear materials to produce optical harmonics, OPOs provide the ability to generate tunable, broadband coherent light. OPOs use a nonlinear crystal to convert a high intensity pump beam into both a signal beam and an idler beam, providing an output that is particularly beneficial in spectroscopic applications.

Q. Can you tell us about the OPO products that you offer?

Dr. Leburn: Our OPO systems combine the reliability of Chromacity’s 1040 nm laser pump source with our expertise in nonlinear optics.

Chromacity’s near-IR OPO generates light across the 1.4 µm – 4 µm region, while our mid-IR OPO makes use of a new generation of non-linear crystals to allow the generation of light across the 5 µm – 12 µm region. Being able to generate instantaneous broadband light across the 3 – 4 µm wavelengths establishes the ability to identify and quantify hydrocarbons simultaneously, and in real-time, using techniques such as FTIR spectroscopy. The same is also true across the 5 – 12 µm fingerprint region where more complex chemical signatures can be detected.

Our OPO systems are ideal for both laboratory research but also industrial applications and fieldwork deployment due to their robust nature.

Q. Who are your customers? What Industries do they belong to? Where are they located?

Dr. Leburn: Our ultra-short pulse systems have been deployed for a variety of end-user applications which include multi-photon imaging, SHG microscopy, FTIR spectroscopy, stand-off detection of harmful chemicals and quantum optics research. Chromacity works with organisations spanning Europe, North America and Asia. Our customers include fundamental research laboratories at academic institutions and industrial partnerships across a broad range of sectors, from life sciences and environmental monitoring to energy, semiconductor failure analysis, and security and defence.

Q. How was 2020 for Chromacity from a business point of view? Did COVID impact your business in any way?

Dr. Leburn: For most companies, 2020 was a challenging year, but Chromacity have successfully managed to adapt, acquire new customers, and expand into new territories. The company was able to quickly put appropriate safety measures in place, adapt manufacturing and installation processes, while switching effectively between shift patterns and remote working. Implementing a remote installation capability for our OPOs prevented the need for engineers to travel during the pandemic and complete system set-up on client sites. The remote installation capability helped Chromacity to internationalise – supporting the company’s first OPO sale into China.

Q. Can you tell us more about your remote installation capabilities?

Dr. Leburn: Installing complex laser systems has typically required an on-site presence from the laser manufacturer, but since COVID-19, we have accelerated the rollout of our remote installation capability and this has proven very successful. It has enabled Chromacity to continue to offer tunable picosecond OPOs, without the need for an engineer to travel with the system. We have achieved stability and reliability, using novel design and manufacturing processes to develop ultrafast OPOs that are robust enough to withstand mechanical shock during shipping, quick to set-up, and simple to operate, via an intuitive user interface.

Q. Laser products can be expensive, do you offer your products for lease/rent? What is the process?

Dr. Leburn: Chromacity’s systems are manufactured differently than typical ultrafast lasers. We have successfully managed to achieve system efficiencies with fewer components, making them smaller and more resistant to mechanical shift and optical misalignment, without compromising on reliability or performance. This unique manufacturing processes ensures we can offer among the most affordable ultrafast lasers on the market. Chromacity offers demonstrator units for the 1040 nm fixed wavelength system and the near-IR OPO, which are available for short term loan. 

Q. What is your product and company roadmap for the next few years?

Dr. Leburn: Chromacity is focussed on upscaling manufacturing operations and expanding into key territories, while also increasing the product range of ultrafast laser systems available. We are excited about our product development roadmap and the launch of new fixed wavelength systems which will hugely benefit the multi-photon imaging community in 2022.

About Chromacity

Chromacity designs, manufactures and sells ultrafast lasers for a wide range of industrial activities and fundamental research. Applications for Chromacity’s patented technologies range from multi-photon imaging and SHG microscopy, to laser spectroscopy and quantum technology development. Click here to learn more about Chromacity.