Updated August 29 at 7:42am

Firm’s products out of this world

'Spectra Systems' expertise in optics used in bank note authentication.'

Some of Spectra Systems Corp.’s products will literally be out of this world this summer, on Mars to be exact. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next Mars rover, Curiosity, which landed on the Red Planet Aug. 6.

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Firm’s products out of this world

'Spectra Systems' expertise in optics used in bank note authentication.'

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Some of Spectra Systems Corp.’s products will literally be out of this world this summer, on Mars to be exact. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next Mars rover, Curiosity, which landed on the Red Planet Aug. 6.

The company has nothing to do with the field of space exploration but its expertise in the optical field – helping authenticate currency and prevent counterfeiting and fraud – was preferred by NASA.

“It has nothing to do with our core business but it’s within our core competence, which is advanced optical materials,” said Nabil M. Lawandy, chairman, president and CEO of Spectra Systems. “They reached out to us because we do highly stable, robust materials. They sent up a high-resolution, fluorescent microscope that can see very small features when looking for fossil-type imprints. Sometimes you do microscopy in ambient light but you also do it in fluorescence. You excite the material or the imprint, to see how it radiates, which gives characteristic signatures of biological activity. The intention there is to use our [sensors on the microscope] as a calibration standard.”

The mission was launched in November 2011 and is part of the NASA Mars Science Laboratory program that will deliver the Curiosity rover to a landing site inside Mars’ Gale Crater for a two-year investigation to determine if the area has ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life.

“When you talk about security features for currency, you have to survive a series of chemical tests and a variety of situations. The material … must not fade in the sun. These attributes made our materials a perfect fit for what they wanted to accomplish with this high-resolution microscope,” he said.

Lawandy was an engineering and physics professor at Brown University. The company was formed in 1996, after Lawandy began exploring a number of different commercial applications based on their knowledge of optical materials, including lasers, Lawandy’s field of expertise. As it turned out his experience was well-suited for the bank note business and authentication. The company is in the bank note-security business and much of their specific information is classified.

As for ownership, the company was publicly listed in July 2011 on the small-cap market in London, the stock exchange. “We raised about $23 million or $24 million in the initial public offering.” The company is publically listed with 40 percent of the ownership coming from major funds and the rest distributed from different shareholders. “The NASDAQ market is essentially shut down to companies under $100 million so we decided to go and be public in England,” he said.

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