A few years ago, Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem gave a talk at a conference about the technology she and her team were focusing on at the University of Adelaide.

Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem. Photo: University of Adelaide

The team had been working on extrusion methods to create hollow-core fibre structures for high power infra-red lasers, often used in surgery.

“Our group has shown that this extrusion technique is perfectly suited for glass types like chalcogenide glass that become soft at temperatures below 500 degrees Celsius,” she said.

“Our extrusion technique is perfectly suited to create a vast range of poly structures into the glass.”

In the audience, IRFlex CEO Francois Chenard had been impressed by what he heard.

He approached Professor Ebendorff-Heidepriem after her talk to see if she and her team were willing to work with them on extrusion methods.

Located in America, IRFlex has expertise in working with chalcogenide glass and were looking for a partner who could create the complex moulds they wanted.

For Professor Ebendorff-Heidepriem, her interest was in making infra-red lasers even safer to use and, in turn, more effective.

“People are looking for a safe method to deliver the laser to the point of interest without degrading the property of the light along the way,” she explained.

“Because the beam is essentially heat radiation and if you put it into glass fibre, there is the danger that if you crank up the power you will damage the glass.

“[Using the fibre] you preserve the laser beam properties while it’s travelling. So it’s transporting the light safely and preserving the beam properties.”

During discussions about how to establish a project, Professor Ebendorff-Heidepriem was pointed towards the Global Connections Grant.

She immediately saw it as a way to fund a trip to IRFlex’s headquarters in Virginia to see if the two groups could successfully collaborate.

“This is where this connection grant is so perfect. It gives a little bit of funding to do something together,” she said.

As the project progressed there have been many Skype calls between Professor Ebendorff-Heidepriem’s team and the IRFlex team to collaboratively resolve issues and decide on the next steps.

As the project has progressed, thoughts are now turning to how to get their hollow-core fibre structures into production, something IRFlex is eager to do. Further research is necessary and the two groups are both looking at funding options that will enable them to continue working together.

None of this would have been possible without the initial grants from the Global Connections Fund. With it, Professor Ebendorff-Heidepriem was able to foster a productive, rewarding working relationship with IRFlex.

“You need a working relationship. This needs some time to build up and having a small joint project that enables you to build this working relationship,” she said.

“Only then can you think of bigger grants, bigger projects to work together.”

Profile of Professor Ebendorff-Heidepriem written for the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering as part of a review of their Global Connections Grant.