Simply stated, optics and photonics are the science and technology of generating, detecting and controlling light. However, the technology made possible by these specialized fields of physics and engineering is anything but simple. It shows up everywhere in our daily lives, from smartphones, cameras and medical instruments to high-speed communication networks, defense technology and countless other innovations.
Thanks in large part to the Optical Technology center at Montana State University, there are about 30 optics and photonics-related companies in the Bozeman area, providing over 500 high-paying jobs. This gives Montana the highest per capita concentration of optics and photonics companies and research institutions in the United States, and positions southwestern Montana at the forefront of one of the most important emerging technology sectors in the state.
In 2013, Prospera supported the formation of the Montana Photonics Industry Alliance (MPIA) industry cluster, a volunteer-run group that functions with operational help from Prospera and the financial support of the City of Bozeman. While getting to know Montana Instruments’ President and Founder Luke Mauritsen at the quarterly MPIA networking socials, Prospera staff saw an opportunity for his company to access a job creation grant through the Montana Department of Commerce’s Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund (BSTF) program.
Within the diverse and far-reaching optics and photonics industry, Montana Instruments focuses on delivering “cold science made simple.” Low temperature science is full of challenges, and the company’s product line offers easy-to-use, high-precision optical measurement solutions for research, industry and education. This enables its customers to study materials in fine detail using extremely cold temperatures to slow molecular activity down and provide the clearest image of molecular interactions. Imagine a countertop device similar in size to a Keurig coffee maker that can reach temperatures near absolute zero, allowing for groundbreaking research and made right here in Bozeman.
Montana Instruments developed its first variable temperature microscope in 2009. By the time they were awarded the BSTF grant in April of 2015, the company had grown to approximately 22 full-time and 4 part-time employees. Now, with the help of the grant and the support provided by the MPIA network, the company has its sights set on reaching over 40 employees by 2017.