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.

© 2015 OSA, SPIE, IEEE Photonics Society

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