A Story of Continuous Achievement

MDL is proud to have made crucial contributions in the areas of diffractive optics, detectors, nano- and micro- systems, lasers and focal planes with breakthrough sensitivity from deep UV to submillimeter. This result came from an exceptional number of talented scientists, technologists and research staff. Through this exploration and development, MDL has produced novel and unique components and subsystems enabling outstanding achievements in support of NASA’s missions and other national priorities. MDL is excited to have been a part of this significant work and looks forward to many more years of continued accomplishments.

MDL originated in 1989 in response to Caltech’s Board of Trustees earlier request to NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Sciences, Dr. Burt Edelson, to consider new areas other than robotic exploration. With this in mind, JPL could take lead responsibility for NASA in an emerging area. Dr. Lew Allen, JPL Director and Dr. Terry Cole, Chief Technologist, then created the Center for Space Microelectronics, appointing Dr. Carl Kukkonen as its first Director. The rest is technological history. No one could have imagined or anticipated the magnitude that MDL Technologies would have on NASA earth and space science mission achievements. This covers the areas of commercial applications, industry, healthcare and also national security.

The vision for MDL was straightforward—build a state-of-the-art facility and hire world-class researchers. Give them all free rein to conduct fundamental research in addition to targeting future NASA needs. As expected, the first five years were essentially an investment in developing capability, acquiring new skills and equipment with a rapid acquisition of technical know-how by an extremely competent team. There were key new endeavors born in superconducting detectors, infrared imaging, sub-millimeter devices, and quantum computing. This led to the next five years when a plethora of flight demonstrations were underway.

MDL is proud to recall the incredible science results from NASA space missions. The e-beam effectiveness in diffractive optics enabled the CRISM instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to map clays, carbonates, and sulfates on Mars as well as select a landing site for Curiosity. MDL then created tailored gratings that mapped lunar minerals and detected surface water using the M3 instrument on India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission. More recently, superconducting detector arrays in a ground telescope at the South Pole have detected changes in B-mode polarization of the CMB that may provide the first evidence of rapid expansion following the Big Bang. MDL also developed Sub-millimeter wave technologies which have been used on a variety of space missions. One of the first was the Earth-Orbiting Microwave Limb Sounder on Aura that, by mapping numerous chemical species together, revealed the detailed mechanisms of ozone hole formation and dissipation over ten years of study. Advancement in this sub-millimeter technology allowed Herschel’s HIFI instrument to measure the deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio on comet Hartley 2 and by that identifying Jupiter-family comets as probable sources of earth’s water. In addition, at earth’s ocean floor, MDL electrophoresis microfluidic technology has detected long-chain fatty acids as biomarkers of localized microbial ecosystems.

During the years ahead, MDL will make unimaginable contributions to our national efforts in space, defense, and security with NASA and Caltech. Our trademark and inspiration for the future remain current in prolific innovations in miniaturized technologies that contribute to the national interest.