Boston University » College of Engineering » Photonics

The Stars

Professor Tom Bifano's finely adjustable mirrors let astronomers filter out distortions to better study the stars.

Keep Reading

As a star's light travels through Earth's turbulent atmosphere, the light gets bent in ways that make the star appear to twinkle. This refraction also blurs any photos an astronomer tries to take of the star from a ground-based telescope.

One big goal for astronomy is to not only peer deeper into the universe, but to do so more precisely.

Bifano's mirrors compensate for that refraction, effectively "untwinkling" the stars so they can be clearly photographed, making them easier for scientists to study.

The specialized mirrors (known as "deformable mirrors") are actually made of hundreds–or even thousands–of tiny optical surfaces that can each be electronically tipped and tilted at nanoscale precision, allowing astronomers to precisely adjust sections of the mirrors to compensate for aberration the atmosphere causes.

Boston Micromachines Corporation—a company Bifano founded with the help of BU—is making affordable deformable mirror technology available to manufacturers of telescopes, microscopes, lasers and medical devices to improve our view of everything from outer space to human cells.


Degrees Offered

  • Graduate & Post-Graduate
    • Master of Engineering
    • Master of Science
    • More Info

Lighting the Way

BU is one of the few universities in the world to offer degree programs focused specifically on photonics. Our photonics faculty are highly respected in the field, and we boast some of the best photonics research facilities in the nation. The University’s interdisciplinary Photonics Center operates an optical-fiber draw tower and more than a dozen special-purpose research laboratories. The Photonics Center also houses a business incubator that offers students an opportunity to work alongside entrepreneurs and technologists to gain real-world experience.

Degree Options

A graduate education in photonics provides students a unique opportunity to become familiar with the applications of light in fields that range from fundamental science to technology. Graduates of our Master of Science program can apply their skills in a variety of industries that employ optical scientists and engineers or decide to further pursue the field by continuing toward a PhD. For those seeking careers in industry, the Master of Engineering program offers advanced technical knowledge and leadership skills.

Visit the Photonics Center website for more information.