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Northampton Community College and Chameleon Optics Win NSF Grant

August 13, 2013

For the third time in three years, a partnership of Northampton Community College (NCC) and Chameleon Optics Inc. has been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research Phase I grant. The partnership successfully competed against some of the finest and best-funded research institutions in the country. 

Awarded, July 1, this grant enables scientists at NCC's Emerging Technology Applications Center (ETAC) and Chameleon Optics to develop unique electrochromic materials and incorporate them in a custom sensor that visibly indicates when a surface has a dangerous static charge.  

The sensor will be useful in industries where static electricity poses a significant hazard potential. The planned first application is aircraft operations, where an uncontrolled static discharge can lead to loss of facilities, vehicles and personnel. Additional markets include facilities such as oil refineries and grain mills that make, manipulate, store or transport non-conductive materials.  Flammable vapors account for nearly 70% of explosive atmosphere detonations, with the most severe costing dozens of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Flammable dust causes an average 12 explosions annually resulting in two fatalities and millions of dollars of damage per year.

Timely warning of dangerous static charge could help prevent these accidents. Less dramatically but still of economic importance, this sensor would improve output in other industries adversely affected by static discharge, such as integrated circuit fabricators. Based on U.S. Business Census data, there are about 386,000 firms operating 538,000 establishments with a total of 13 million employees that could benefit from a successful sensor development. 

Chameleon Optics, located in Bethlehem, PA, develops and commercializes unique optical coatings, drawing upon a large array of academic and commercial partners to speed product development. 

ETAC is an applied R&D facility within Northampton Community College's Fowler Family Southside Center.  ETAC's industry experts, engineers and business professionals provide confidential assistance to a wide variety of manufacturers to increase process efficiency, product quality, and energy management practices while reducing environmental impact. ETAC helps companies find the best solutions to meet their industrial process needs and has become an invaluable resource for alternative technologies, energy savings, environmental guidance, and coating/ink performance.

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