History of Photonics in Montana

The History of the MPIA

In 2012 Regional Technology Strategies, Inc identified a rapidly growing cluster of optics and photonics companies and research institutions in Montana.  Comprised of over 20 organizations, this cluster is one of the highest per capital concentrations of optics and photonics companies and research institutions in the United States and is recognized by the state for its economic growth potential.  Click here to read the full report, “Imagining a Future for the Big Sky Optics Cluster.”

The Montana Photonics Industry Alliance was formed in October 2013 to promote the growth and success of the Montana optics cluster organizations.

Montana’s Emerging Photonics Industry and the MPIA

Information Resources about our History

Photonics and Montana’s Emerging Photonics Industry (2015)

A 30 slide PowerPoint prevention that provides an overview of photonics, Montana’s emerging photonics industry, and the Montana Photonics Industry Alliance.  The presentation includes the following sections:

  • What Is Photonics?
  • Why Is Photonics Important?
  • Montana’s Emerging Photonics Industry
  • Montana Photonics Industry Alliance

Download Microsoft PowerPoint file

Synergistic Development of Optics Education and Industry In a Small Uuniversity Town (2015)


In thirty-five years, more than thirty optics-related companies have been established in the small Rocky Mountain town of Bozeman, Montana, USA. This situation offers a rare opportunity to examine the parallel growth of optics education and industry in a location that until recently was home to very few, if any, high-technology companies. The growth of optics education and research at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman was both a cause and a result of the parallel growth of surrounding optics-related companies. The earliest academic optics activities at MSU were in both applied optical measurements and basic optical sciences, especially laser crystal spectroscopy and laser physics, and our first optics companies were in similar fields. In fact, one of the first companies was started by an MSU graduate who grew the crystal for the world’s first ruby laser built by Dr. Theodore Maiman. After the start of this growth in the 1980s, the next several decades brought synergistic broadening of optics activities to a wide range of applications, from remote sensing to medical imaging. This paper outlines the events that initiated this development and the ongoing activities that continue to promote this synergistic growth of optics in both academia and industry. 

Joseph A. Shaw, Montana State University, Optical Technology Center

Available from OSA Publishing.  Download PDF file.

Optics in the Gallatin Valley 2011

Video summarizing history and current activities in optics and photonics in Montana (11 min 21 s)

Click here to view

Montana Optics History, Part 1

Interviews with Roger Robichaud and Ralph Hutcheson, early Montana optics company founders.

Click here to view

Montana Optics History, Part 2

Interviews with Rufus Cone and John Carlsten, early Montana optics researchers.

Click Here to view

Montana Optics History, Part 3

Interviews with Pete Roos and Joe Sawyer, more recent optics company leaders.

Click here to view


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