UC Merced Connect: Light device earns patent for college

January 30, 2013 

— Professor Roland Winston knows a jellyfish that can help people see more clearly.

But it's not the kind found in the ocean. It's one that's about to earn Winston and UC Merced a U.S. patent and is the solution to a problem that has vexed many scientists.

"Perfect imaging has been a desired goal of optics since the days of Galileo, Newton and Descartes," Winston wrote in his Optics Letters paper announcing the invention.

Optical systems are subject to aberrations caused by lens imperfections that distort images seen through cameras, telescopes, microscopes and other viewing devices.

The jellyfish, nicknamed because of its shape, is an example of aplanatic optics -- devices designed to reduce or eliminate aberrations such as glare, blur and other issues. It's a multiple-surface lens Winston designed that uses mirrors to focus LED light more tightly than before, resulting in a brighter beam.

A Southern California company is negotiating a license to use the lens in architectural applications.

But these jellyfish could have other uses, such as glare-free automotive lighting or illuminating stages in live theaters.

Winston said it's likely LEDs will replace traditional lighting because they are more energy- and cost- efficient. They last longer and use less electricity.

The jellyfish patent will be UC Merced's fourth issued in the United States.

UC Merced has more than 35 other patents submitted for review and many more ideas being developed through its groundbreaking research.

Every watt counts

As UC Merced's new energy manager, it's Varick Erickson's job to watch every kilowatt hour used on campus and identify ways to save them.

"It's a lot like rummaging around in the couch and looking for change," Erickson said. Except the spare kilowatt hours he finds could save the campus hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That's why he's launched a website -- an energy dashboard (http://cem. ucmerced.edu) to show the campus community where energy is being used and where it could be saved. The dashboard gives people a real-time look at campus energy consumption.

Science labs, he said, use a lot of energy because of high-powered equipment. Fume hoods that keep researchers from breathing toxins, for example, use two to three times more energy than the average household. The Science and Engineering Building, he said, can account for up to 30 percent of the campus's electric demands, while the Social Science and Management building uses 2 percent to 5 percent of the total.

Erickson, also a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, has put some measures in place to help.

Wireless cameras on the second floor of the Science and Engineering Building count room occupancy. Rooms and wings that are not occupied don't need to be heated or cooled.

The system is being designed to learn to predict occupancy schedules to engage the heating or air conditioning so the temperature is comfortable when people arrive. The system is being tested, but Erickson hopes to put it to use across campus.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff. To contact them, email communications@ucmerced.edu.

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