Written by Whitney L.J. Howell

Light illuminates our world. But it can do far more than merely tell our bodies when to wake up or fuel photosynthesis in plants. Light carries information – but, it can also provide measurements.

Duke University faculty member David Brady, Ph.D., has spent much of his career maximizing what light’s capabilities can offer. And, he’s done so in ways which make practical impacts on the people’s work and personal lives.

“The science of what we do goes into designing measurement systems. In a conventional system, for example, if you want to know about the climate, you might measure the temperature,” said Brady, Michael J. Fitzpatrick Professor of Photonics in the Pratt School of Engineering. “We conduct a more systematic analysis of the information you want to know more about and to the image that you want.”

In every venture, his ultimate goal has been to make something useful come from his discoveries. That pursuit has led him to found three start-up companies, each with a distinct focus, since joining the Duke faculty.

His first company, Centice, was founded in 2004 and has made a significant impact on criminal investigations.

“In the case of crime scene investigations, police currently send suspicious substances to crime labs. It can take a while to get verification of what the substance is,” he said. “We’ve made instruments that can instantly identify 3,800 different substances. It dramatically greases the wheels of justice. Cases usually go to plea bargain much faster, and it lowers costs.”

Each suspicious substance has a unique fingerprint when analyzed. Using Raman spectroscopy, a technique that uses laser light to observe molecular vibrations, investigators can use Brady’s technology to pinpoint that data image in less than a minute.

Two years after launching Centice, Brady founded Applied Quantum Technologies (AQT) to develop an innovative spectral imaging system that can be used for biological studies and analysis. It has since morphed into a company dedicated to helping academic faculty translate their research into practical applications.

In fact, AQT helped spawn Brady’s third company, Aqueti. This company developed a 250-megapixel camera – the highest resolution camera made. Together with his colleagues, Brady is working to transition this technology, which measured two-and-a-half-feet square and 20 inches deep initially, into more consumer-grade, as well as, cell phone cameras. Most importantly, however, he is investigating how the high-resolution technology can be applied to X-rays, potentially lowering the radiation dosage patients receive during these diagnostic imaging studies.

Airline passengers could also someday benefit from the camera technology, he said.

“The reason we have to take liquids and our lap tops out during security checks is that the machines can’t identify the components and the materials inside those things,” he said. “We’re improving the molecular sensitivity of the X-rays to identify the materials and what they consist of at the molecular level. It allows screeners to make better judgments and us to not have to take everything out of our luggage.”

At each step of the way, Duke has played a fundamental role in his entrepreneurial and innovative activities.

“Duke is an environment that makes collaborative research easy,” Brady said. “I’ve had the chance to work with other faculty, students, and staff, and the location in the RTP is such that there’s a good talent pool locally to develop products.”

To learn more about Aqueti, click here.

To read about more Duke entrepreneurs, click here.

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