Zeroptica: Designing for science

"I strongly believe that every single new technology with potential should have a demonstration model and so Origin8 is the perfect partner for us". James Doyle, Project Manager, AMBER

AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) is a collaboration between University College Cork and Trinity College Dublin whose core function is to translate third level research into industrial applications. In 2016, AMBER contacted NCAD Origin8 in the hope that they could brand and create a demonstration model for an exciting new technology developed by one of AMBER’s senior research fellows, Dr Parvaneh Mokarian-Tabari, and her team.

The technology in question produces an anti-reflective surface that eliminates unwanted light reflections using sub-wavelength nanostructures. As explained by James Doyle, AMBERS’s project manager: “You can apply it to various surfaces such as screens and it will adsorb 99.9% of glare. It’s also super hydrophobic. These features combine to make for a very interesting bit of science and while this can deliver a multitude of journal publications, it’s also very relevant commercially.”

In 2016, Mokarian-Tabari’s team had succeeded in securing a stand at SPIE, Europe’s biggest optics conference, and, though confident in the technology they planned to exhibit, they had no visual means of clearly demonstrating their technology’s value. Enter Origin8. NCAD assigned a product design graduate, Robert Miculus, to the project. The design brief stipulated several key deliverables, among which were a portable research demonstrator and unique brand identity to include a company name and logo.

Branded by Miculus as Zeroptica, Mokarian-Tabari’s team’s research transformed from an innovative technology to a convincing, professional product. Miculus worked closely with experts at both NCAD and AMBER to create a series of posters, a slide deck and a lightweight, interactive demo-model, all given Zeroptica’s new branding. The set up was so convincing in fact that many visitors to the team’s stand at SPIE assumed that Zeroptica was already an established company.

Doyle referred to AMBER’s partnership with Origin8 as a real game-changer: “Before working with Origin8, AMBER didn’t tend to have visual guides or professional models. Miculus’ design work gave the research real credibility. Of course, the technology has to stand alone, it cannot be bolstered by anything, but it’s equally important to communicate the research in a way that is compelling and accessible. Without that, securing funding and gaining buy-ins is nigh on impossible.”

And sure enough, suddenly doors began to open. Mokarian-Tabari’s team won first prize for the Best Innovation Award by a Multilateral Project or Technology at SPIE. Their stand was also visited personally by the president of the conference who invited the team to attend Photonics West, (SPIE’s US-based conference) with a view to introducing them to handpicked venture capitalists and, in 2017, Zeroptica went on to secure Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Funding.