Chromation Leads the Way to Low-cost Portable Spectrometers with Photonic Crystals

Tanya Cruz Garza of Chromation inspects a photo-mask at the ASRC NanoFabrication Facility

Tanya Cruz Garza of Chromation inspects a photo-mask at the ASRC NanoFabrication Facility

In 2009, Nadia Pervez was a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Ioannis (John) Kymissis's group at Columbia University. While working on a project utilizing nanoscale photonic crystals to defeat waveguiding in top emitting organic LEDs (OLEDs), Pervez and Kymissis realized that they could use similar photonic systems on glass to make very inexpensive spectrometers. The two decided to develop a proof-of-concept device and apply for funding to launch the company, Chromation.

The company’s core product is an optical spectrometer that is smaller, easier to use, and easier to manufacture than traditional grating spectrometers.

Chromation's photonic crystal based optical spectrometer being tested at the company's facility in Harlem.

Chromation's photonic crystal based optical spectrometer being tested at the company's facility in Harlem.

“There's a growing demand for small inexpensive optical spectrometers suitable for integration into mobile devices, wearables, and consumer electronics,” Pervez says. “These devices will need to be both really inexpensive (approximately a few dollars) and very easy to integrate (standard surface mount packages with little or no optical design). You can't do that by simply scaling down a traditional grating spectrometer, but our technology makes it possible.”  

To integrate light management into their devices, Chromation needed the ability to pattern metal layers on both sides of a transparent wafer. The NanoFabrication Facility (NanoFab) housed at the Advanced Science Research Center at the Graduate Center, CUNY (ASRC) was the only academic cleanroom in New York City with this capability. “The ASRC was also flexible enough to allow us to test processes involving non-standard materials, such as custom sputtering targets and experimental photoresists,” Pervez adds. “We've been able to quickly turn around new designs for testing and new process variations using the ASRC.”

Chromation team, left to right: Mark Comerford (VP Business Development) Nadia Pervez (CEO), Tanya Cruz Garza (Director of Fabrication), John Kymissis (CTO), Michael Gazes (Director of Design). Photo credit:  © Ruby Tull Photography.

Chromation team, left to right: Mark Comerford (VP Business Development) Nadia Pervez (CEO), Tanya Cruz Garza (Director of Fabrication), John Kymissis (CTO), Michael Gazes (Director of Design). Photo credit:  © Ruby Tull Photography.

Chromation’s technology allows them to meet these needs by integrating light management and spectral selectivity into one easy to manufacture die. The device utilizes photonic crystals for spectral selectivity and patterned reflectors and absorbers for light management, each requiring nanoscale precision and the use of nanofabrication facility to manufacture.

Chromation launched operations in 2011 with the support of NSF SBIR and Air Force SBIR awards to develop the technology for the ultraviolet, visible, near-IR, and longer wavelengths. Since then, they have secured equity investments to support improvements in manufacturability and have released their first product in 2017. Chromation is based at the Mink Building on Amsterdam in West Harlem, just a few blocks from the ASRC, working alongside fellow start-ups and artisans, including Lumiode.  

Tanya operating the reactive ion etcher at the ASRC NanoFabricaiton Facility. 

Tanya operating the reactive ion etcher at the ASRC NanoFabricaiton Facility. 

Chromation engineers utilize both the Columbia University Cleanroom and the ASRC NanoFabrication Facility. Pervez says, “In general, academic cleanrooms are a great resource for testing out new designs and processes -- but we had some specific additional needs where the ASRC's facilities have been particularly critical to our R&D effort.”

Chromation engineers Michael and Tanya testing the latest revision of their optical spectrometer at the companies work space, less than a mile away from the CUNY ASRC.

Chromation engineers Michael and Tanya testing the latest revision of their optical spectrometer at the companies work space, less than a mile away from the CUNY ASRC.

The company recently released a development kit featuring their first spectrometer product, named the Chromation Spec. This product contains the key optical functionality required to make an easy to integrate surface mount part. Chromation is currently fundraising to support the development of a surface mount spectrometer chip and additional advancements, such as expansion to other wavelength ranges, products that can measure multiple viewing angles, and products with hyperspectral imaging capabilities. For additional information on Chromation, contact Nadia Pervez at nadia@chromationspec.com.