Optics Valley - Tucson, Arizona (USA)

Optics Valley - Tucson, Arizona (USA)Tucson was first dubbed Optics Valley in 1992 by Bloomberg Business Week. The name honors the region's high concentration of optics-related companies and research centers. Research and development at the University of Arizona, as well as a talent pool skilled in engineering and optics-related technology, have contributed to the success of Tuscon as a centre for optics.

About the Optics Valley

Situated in and around Tucson, Optics Valley is at the centre of Arizona's optics-related industry. It located close to a large pool of highly skilled and educated graduates and professionals, including undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Arizona. In 2008, the Office of Economic and Policy Analysis at the University of Arizona estimated that the state's optics industry generated $2.3 billion and employed 25,000 in 2006. By comparison, the industry generated just $236 million and employed 2,300 people and 1996, while benchmark data collected by the Arizona Optics Industry Association in 2001 suggested that companies in the Optics Valley contributed $600 million to the economy and employed over 1,400 people.

Businesses and research centers in the Optics Valley are involved in developing and providing a range of products and services. These include activities in optical design, optical engineering, fiber optic technology, telecommunications, laser and semiconductor technology, metrology instrumentation and technology, high precision optical fabrication, precision measuring and positioning equipment, opto-electronics, image processing software, precision plastic optics, and other products from microscopes and telescopes to optical coatings.

Research Centers

Optics Valley benefits from its location close to several research centers. Arizona's optics industry has benefited from innovative and world-leading research at the University of Arizona. Founded in 1885, the University of Arizona is home to the College of Optical Sciences. The college is the largest institute for optics education in the United States. Also affiliated with the University of Arizona is the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL). Founded in 1960, the research centre is the home of the university's Department of Planetary Sciences. Major milestones for LPL include the discovery of moons orbiting Uranus and Neptune, detecting carbon dioxide on Mars, and detecting methane on Saturn's moon Titan.

The University of Arizona is also the site of the Arizona Center for Mathematical Sciences (ACMS) and the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN). ACMS is a research group involving participation of the university's mathematics, physics and optical sciences departments. It leads research and education in mathematical sciences, including developing models and applications for nonlinear processes in optics, fluids, neural networks and random distribute systems. Meanwhile, CIAN is dedicated to creating optoelectronic telecommunication technologies that enable optical access and aggregation networks.


Several astronomical observatories are based in the mountains of southern Arizona. Over 40 observatories are discovering planets outside our own solar system and contributing to a better understanding of our universe. Among them is the largest optical telescope in the world, the Large Binocular Telescope at the Mount Graham International Observatory in the Pinaleno Mountains. The Mount Graham facility is part of the Steward Observatory, which is affiliated with the University of Arizona. Established in 1916, the Steward Observatory is the research arm of the university's Department of Astronomy. In addition to telescopes in Chile and New Mexico, it operates mountain-top telescopes in Arizona's Catalina Station at Mount Bigelow and the Mount Lemmon Observatory, both in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Also based in Tucson is the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, which operates the Kit Peak National Observatory and other telescopes around the country. Founded in 1958, observations from Kit Peak played an important role in the discovery of dark matter. The Fred Lawrence Whippe Observatory is also found within the mountains of Optics Valley. Operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the facility is located on Mount Hopkins near Amado and has led work on ground-based gamma-ray astronomy.


Companies represented in Arizona's Optics Valley range from start-ups to large corporations. Businesses are leading the development of a range of products, including directed-energy weapons, scientific instruments for molecular and materials research, and military and commercial electronics. When the Arizona Optics Industry Association was founded in 1992, only 55 companies participated in the group's first meeting. Now, over 300 companies are members of the association.

Many businesses have their roots in the University of Arizona's research and development activities. For example, former University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences professor founded NP Photonics in 1998, a developer of single frequency and amplified narrow line-width fibre lasers. Businesses based in the area also include industry leaders 4D Technology, Applied Energetics, Bruker, Raytheon, Synopsys and Zygo Corporation. Other ventures include Areté Associates, Breault Research Organization, Dataforth, Edmund Optics, ESDI, Lasertel, Opt-E, Photometrics, Prism Solar Technologies and REhnu.

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