Professor Bifano: AO

Adaptive optics

In optical imaging systems, such as microscopes, telescopes, and the human eye, the quality of the image is often limited by imperfections in the optical beam path. In astronomical telescopes, the imperfections are due to shape errors in the primary mirror and to turbulence in the atmosphere, while in human vision they are due to shape errors in the cornea and lens. Adaptive optics (AO) is a process through which optical image quality is improved using a deformable mirror that compensates imperfections in the beam path.


With AO, researchers in the past decade have achieved unprecedented resolution, contrast, and brightness in optical instruments, As a result, they have obtained startling new images of distant galaxies and planets outside our solar system, microscale structures and physiology in the retina of the living eye, and cellular structures deep in tissue.

An enabling technology for this advance in photonic imaging has been the development, at Boston University, of compact, high-resolution deformable mirrors (DMs) using microfabrication techniques (MEMS). We demonstrated our first MEMS DMs in about 1997, with support from DARPA under program manager Kaigham (Ken) Gabriel.

An online introduction to AO is available on the Center for Adaptive Optics website hosted by the University of California at Santa Cruz. An introductory handbook that I have found useful is "Introduction to Adaptive Optics," by Robert Tyson (UNC).

Boston Micromachines Corporation (BMC) maintains a list of research papers describing imaging advancements made possible by mirrors pioneered at Boston University. BMC has an exclusive license to produce these MEMS DMs (Diclosure: Professor Bifano co-founded of BMC with his former student, Paul Bierden, and has a financial interest in the company). That partnership between BU and BMC has recently been expanded to include a strategic partnership with Thorlabs Corporation, leading to a commercial Adaptive Optics Toolkit.


Thomas Bifano, Director, Boston University Photonics Center

Room 936, 8 Saint Mary's Street, Boston, MA 02215

Tele: 617-353-8899, Email:, Web: