Galaxy Compound Semiconductors Inc., a small, Spokane Valley-based company that produces metal alloys called crystals used in infrared-detection equipment, says it is working to develop a new material that could expand greatly the markets the company serves.
Since Galaxy split off five years ago from London-based Johnson Matthey Electronic Materials Inc., which owned a major facility here, the company has supplied the U.S. Department of Defense and astronomers across the country with the infrared-sensitive crystal wafers, says co-owner and President Kevin Blanchat.
Now, Galaxy is partnering with Matthew McCluskey, a physics professor at Washington State University, to create a new type of infrared-detection material that could broaden Galaxys range of product applications for the medical-equipment and automobile markets.
McCluskey says he recently received a $24,000 grant from the Washington Technology Center to conduct the joint research with Galaxy.
Galaxy part-owner and engineer Daniel Bakken says Galaxy and McCluskey are developing new types of crystals that can detect a wider range of colors in the infrared spectrum than what the companys current products detect. Galaxy hopes to extend the crystals wavelength detection to the far-infrared region by adding another metal to the companys current products, which only detect mid-infrared wavelengths, he says.
To create the crystals it currently sells, Galaxy uses two machines that refine and melt two metals together to form the alloys, Bakken says. Galaxy, which buys high-purity metals here from Honeywell Electronic Materials, which bought Johnson Mattheys operation, makes the crystals at 922 E. Montgomery, in Spokane Valley, where the company occupies about 4,000 square feet of space, he says.
Galaxy sells those crystals to infrared-camera makers, who in turn sell them to the Department of Defense for use in missiles, jets, and satellites, and to astronomers for use in telescope-type equipment, Bakken says. A standard, 3-inch-diameter crystal wafer sells for about $850, and the crystal that Galaxy and McCluskey are developing likely wouldnt cost much more than that, he says.
Blanchat says potential applications for the new types of crystals include use in infrared cameras that detect higher-than-average body temperatures in people afflicted by highly contagious diseases. Such equipment might be placed in airports and other travel-related sites where detection of those diseases could help prevent their spread, he says.
Also, automakers might use the new crystals in developing equipment that can detect unseen body heat, Blanchat says. That equipment could be installed in vehicles to help drivers detect animals or people in the roadway, and ultimately, improve driving safety and navigation through fog at night, he says.
Bakken says Galaxy must determine how far it can widen the crystals infrared-detection measurements before it can estimate all of the potential markets and sales for that type of material.
I dont expect it would triple our business overnight, but it should be a positive thing, he says.
Bakken and Blanchat decline to disclose Galaxys annual revenues, but Bakken says the new types of crystals could double the companys sales. Galaxy likely will start creating and testing the new materials next month, and if research progresses successfully, the company might begin commercializing the products in one or two years, he says.
Bakken says that he and Gordon Dallas left Johnson Matthey to form Galaxy in 1999.
Bakken, Blanchat, and Dallas now own Galaxy, along with a silent investor. Galaxy employs eight people, Bakken says.
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