Graduates use liquid crystal experience

Jessica Dreschel

AlphaMicron’s creative director Joshua Hupper, 24, collaborates with design director Jonathan Figler, 25, on new product ideas. Figler joined AlphaMicron last year after graduating from Kent State with a degree in Jewelry and Metals.

Credit: Ben Breier

Walking through the front doors of AlphaMicron, a local liquid crystal research and development firm, one will probably first notice the sunny yellow color scheme. What is not apparent is the number of gold-and-blue-blooded Kent State graduates working for the company.

Many of AlphaMicron’s 20 staff members worked at Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute, Chief Operating Officer Tamas Kosa said.

“The Liquid Crystal Institute produces experts. All of the PhDs and most of our engineers worked at the LCI,” Kosa said.

Mike Weddle, economic development coordinator for the city of Kent, could also see the plus side to having a university in the area.

“AlphaMicron is an example of the mutual benefits received by having Kent State inside the city’s boundaries,” Weddle said.

Employees also have come from fields including chemistry and fashion.

Joshua Hupper, full-time creative director for AlphaMicron, was originally hired as an intern during his junior year in Kent State’s fashion program.

The company approached the fashion school looking for people who wanted to do something different, Hupper said. Hupper’s internship turned into a full-time position when the company’s CEO became interested in using AlphaMicron technology in high fashion, Hupper said.

AlphaMicron’s foray into fashion included a piece designed for President Carol Cartwright.

The company designed a white lily pin for Cartwright to wear to a formal function. The leaves were made from white lamb skin and several small plastic liquid crystal chips in the center of the flower changed color, Kosa said.

Along with Kosa, the company is run by two other men still holding positions as Kent State faculty: Chief Executive Officer Bahman Taheri and Chief Scientific Officer Peter Palffy-Muhoray.

The business was started in 1997 when liquid crystal scientists answered a challenge from the United States Air Force. The Air Force was looking for a helmet visor that would make flight information projected onto its surface more readable.

Co-founder Taheri approached Kosa with a brave suggestion, Kosa said.

“Bahman wanted to make a company to work on the Air Force problem. We are scientists, not businessmen, so we needed help to get started,” Kosa said.

Help came from the Kent Regional Business Alliance. The company also received a research grant from the Department of Defense’s Small Business Innovation Research Program. The money helped fund research for the Air Force project, Kosa said.

AlphaMicron’s research earned the company two more grants from the government.

“We pioneered the use of liquid crystal on curved surfaces,” Kosa said.

Kosa said he hopes the work will eventually result in a production contract with the Air Force. AlphaMicron is now primarily a research and development firm doing small-scale production, Kosa said.

“We are focusing now on commercializing our product for use in eyewear applications like ski goggles and sunglasses. Functionality is the primary factor for our goggles. We want to make the sunglasses look pretty,” Kosa said.

Contact business reporter Jessica Dreschel at [email protected].