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Nature Photonics 5, 28 (2011) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2010.289
Interview: Getting a clearer picture

Adaptive optics has a huge range of applications. Nadya Anscombe talks to Robert Tyson, associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the USA, to find out his views on its future.

What are the applications of adaptive optics today?
The technology behind adaptive optics was originally developed by the defence industry for propagating laser beams into space, but has since become an essential technology in astronomy. Every telescope larger than 4 m in diameter needs adaptive optics to correct for the 'twinkling' of stars due to atmospheric distortions. Throughout the 1980s, engineers in the field of astronomy worked to solve the problem of not having an object bright enough to use as a reference. The development of laser guide stars, in which an artificial beacon of scattered light is placed high in the atmosphere, opened the door for the high-resolution imaging of very dim astronomical objects. A new exciting application for adaptive optics is in ophthalmology, where it can be used to reduce optical aberrations and therefore give sharper pictures of the retina.

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