Dr. Rama Rao



Financial Physics

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Excel laser deal: new light in the East?

by Ellen R. Delisio

In 1988, Rama Rao was able to fulfill a dream of starting his own laser research company when he founded Excel technology, Inc. of Holbrook.

Now three years later, Dr. Rao's efforts are paying off through Excel's involvement in an international collaboration which could bring a more sophisticated laser to the medical field.

In July, excel signed a letter of intent with Byelorussian Polytechnic Institute in Minsk in the former Soviet Union to work jointly on development of a laser devise to detect cancer at its earliest stages.

"I believe they have a nice capacity with which to complement Excel laser technology," said Dr. Rao, who has a doctorate in laser physics form the University of Illinois in Chicago. "Why invent the wheel all over again if they have comparable technology?"

If the collaboration is successful, the work will produce the world's first device of its kind which can detect and treat cancer early, he said. "It will have a tremendous market potential," Dr. Rao said. "Cancer is a global disease; why should we duplicate our efforts? We should join hands and benefit mankind."

The project is tentatively scheduled for completion at the end of December, he said. The cost of the project is confidential.

The agreement with Byelorussia came about because of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the Soviet Union and the connections of an Excel engi-neer who attended the Institute, said Dr. Rao.

For years, researchers here knew that Byelorussia scientists were doing sophisticated work in the area of lasers, but the Byelo-russians had not been able to publicize it, Dr. Rao said.

"Byelorussia has been shut off from the global picture," he said. "They were completely isolated. Their technology had been developed, but not publicized. Now they are traveling and talking more freely."

The Byelorussian Institute has a lot of strength in growing crys-tals for lasers and has a laser crystal not available anywhere else in the world, Dr. Rao said. U.S. researchers have better elec-tronic technology for lasers, he added.

Laser stands for light amplifi-cation by stimulated emission of radiation. A laser produces a powerful beam of light, through the excitement of atoms to a higher energy level, which can be used to vaporize even very hard materials. In recent years, lasers have been used increasingly for different types of surgery. Lasers include a crystal and electronic devices, Dr. Rao said.

Representatives of the Byelorussian Institute first came to Excel in May, said Dr. Rao, and now the Institute has two or three people working on the joint project. Excel has its 10 employees in on the effort.

Dr. Rao and another representative of Excel were scheduled to go to the Institute for a week Sept. 21 to see how the research was progressing. The trip origi-nally had been scheduled for August, but the brief coup in the Soviet Union Aug. 19 forced the postponement of the trip.

"We were a little concerned when they had the coup," Dr. Rao said. "We were originally supposed to fly there three days after the coup." While day-to-day life in Minsk appeared not to be affected, the team at the institute asked the Excel scientists to wait, Dr. Rao said.

This is the first time Excel has collaborated with a group outside of the U.S. Dr. Rao said the company is trying to establish collaborative agreements with Japan and Europe as well, in addition to continuing to work with the Byelorussian Institute.

Up until three months ago, all of Excel's work had been in the area of research and develop-ment. After working for about three years in the medical laser technology field, Dr. Rao said, he founded Excel with the sup-port of his wife, who works in laser technology at Brookhaven Laboratories.

The company has been par-tially funded through a federal program called Small Business Innovation Research, which uses money from the National Sci-ence Foundation, NASA and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

The funding was provided to help the company develop re-search for commercial products, according to Dr. Rao.

Traditionally, the U.S. has been the leader in laser technol-ogy because of the government's interest in its defense applica-tions, he said. But according to Dr. Rao, he only works with unclassified material and his main goal is to develop products with medical applications.

"If they get some defense use, fine, but that is not the main goal," he said. "The government is getting help indirectly through the unclassified work."

In addition, laser and computer technology probably will dictate the development of new products in the next decade, according to Dr. Rao.

Also in the past year, Excel has in-stalled laser units at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hughes Aircraft and Ames Laboratory in Iowa, as well as Italy and Japan, for scien-tific research, he said.

Hopefully, his experience will inspire others on Long Island who have been thinking of start-ing their own businesses, Dr. Rao said. If the project with the Bye-lorussian Institute is successful, Dr. Rao said that he is anticipat-ing more collaborative efforts and bringing the device to the global market. Then, he said, be would like to branch out to other products for different medical applications. "Each one needs a different type of laser," he said.

"Taxpayer money helped develop the product," Dr. Rao said. "Now we are helping the public." ®