March 2023 episode | Optics Valley: The State of Arizona’s Optics Industry

The March 2023 episode of the Arizona Technology Council's AZTechCast podcast featured experts including Dr. Jennifer Barton, director of the BIO5 Institute at The University of Arizona; Gregory Quarles, CEO and president of Applied Energetics, Inc.; and Katie Schwertz, design engineering manager...

March 2023 episode | Optics Valley: The State of Arizona’s Optics Industry

Episode Overview

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Arizona is home to a global hub of world-class companies and institutions with decades of innovation and leadership in optics, photonics and astronomy. From medical imaging to remote sensing, semiconductors to astronomy and mobile phones to quantum information science, the applications of optics and photonics technologies are exploding.

The March 2023 episode of the Arizona Technology Council’s AZTechCast podcast featured experts including Dr. Jennifer Barton, director of the BIO5 Institute at The University of Arizona; Gregory Quarles, CEO and president of Applied Energetics, Inc.; and Katie Schwertz, design engineering manager at Edmund Optics. These leaders joined Bianca Buliga, director of marketing and communications at the Arizona Technology Council, and Karen Nowicki, president and owner of Phoenix Business RadioX, in discussing why Arizona attracts optics companies, how these companies are supported and what Arizona and the U.S. can do to maintain industry leadership.

In this hour-long episode, the panel of three experts started by defining the study of optics and photonics as the science of light and sharing how the industry has evolved and grown in the past decade. They emphasized that while not many people have heard of optics and photonics, the industry’s applications are present in everyday life, from the cars we drive to our cell phones to medical equipment being used at doctor’s offices. The panel then continued on to explain how Arizona has become a global hub for innovation in optics, photonics and astronomy, with the Optics Valley industry cluster leading the way in southern Arizona. Optics Valley, a committee of the Council’s that has now grown to over 100 members, hosts several events every year like Arizona Photonics Days and the International Day of Light to educate the community on the many important applications of optics and photonics.

Dr. Jennifer Barton received her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and previously worked for McDonnell Douglas on the International Space Station program. She now serves as the director of the BIO5 Institute at The University of Arizona, which is a collaborative research institute dedicated to solving complex biology-based problems affecting humanity. In particular, Dr. Barton develops miniature endoscopes that combine multiple optical imaging techniques and evaluate the suitability of these endoscopes for detecting early cancer development, more specifically ovarian cancer. Throughout the conversation, Dr. Barton highlighted the huge opportunities that optics has to make a difference in the health of Arizonans.

Dr. Gregory Quarles was hired in May 2019 as the CEO and president of Applied Energetics, Inc., a recognized leading company developing ultrashort-pulse (USP) lasers, frequency agile optical sources and laser-guided energy technologies. Applied Energetics has a 20-year history of technological innovation, owning the patents and intellectual property for their unique USP laser technology and delivering on multiple national security programs. Dr. Quarles holds five patents related to his research in solid-state leaders, has 12 pending and has published over 130 peer-reviewed and conference publications. He is also recognized for his strategic partnerships with the Department of Defense and U.S. Congress to develop new laser devices for medical, national security and industrial applications. Throughout the conversation, Dr. Quarles spoke extensively about the role that optics play in the directed energy and national security sectors, the factors that affect the ability to drive a product into the market and the workforce challenges and STEM pipeline opportunities that exist for optics companies in Arizona.

Finally, Katie Schwertz works as the design engineering manager at Edmund Optics in Tucson, where she is responsible for managing corporate-wide design and analysis needs for existing products and new product development. She received her B.S. in optics from the University of Rochester and M.S. in optical sciences from The University of Arizona. She has over a decade of applied industry experience in optical and optomechanical design primarily for imaging lens systems, and is a co-author of two books focused on optics and photonics. Edmund Optics is a leading global manufactured and supplied of optics, imaging and photonics technology that has served a variety of markets including life sciences, biomedical, industrial inspection, semiconductor, research and development and defense since 1942. During the conversation, Katie focused primarily on the emerging trends in the industry like augmented and virtual reality, quantum and metalenses, as well as the global supply chain and market disruptions that are affecting the industry.

In conclusion, optics and photonics touch all of our lives, and these leaders are on a mission to make the industry’s human impact more well known. To learn more about this fast-growing industry, listen to this episode and be sure to check out one of the Council’s and Optics Valley’s upcoming events, like the International Day of Light on Sunday, May 21 at Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium in Tucson, AZ.

About AZTechCast
The official podcast of the Arizona Technology Council, AZTechCast is dedicated to covering innovation and technology in Arizona and beyond. Through the art of the connected conversation, AZ TechCast’s hosts and guests share success stories, tech news and analysis about the region’s leading startups, companies and emerging technologies, as well as the latest industry trends and critical issues propelling Arizona’s growing technology ecosystem. Visit to learn more or to listen to recent episodes.

About Phoenix Business RadioX
Karen Nowicki is the owner and president of Phoenix Business RadioX. Amplifying the voice of business, Phoenix Business RadioX helps local businesses and professional associations get the word out about the important work they’re doing to serve their market, profession and community. A successful author, speaker and the creator of Deep Impact Leadership™ and SoulMarks Coaching™, Nowicki is a two-time recipient of the prestigious national Choice Award® for her book and personal development retreat. In addition, Nowicki has been an expert guest on regional TV and radio shows, including Fox Phoenix Morning Show, Sonoran Living, Good Morning Arizona, The Chat Room and Mid-Day Arizona. Recognized for her leadership and business acumen, she has been a regular contributor to many print and online magazines – publishing articles and blogs for business and education.

March 2023 episode | Optics Valley: The State of Arizona's Optics Industry