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Expertise in fiber optics

Brazilian physicist spent 30 years in the United States, worked at NASA, and returned to Brazil, where he is developing a company in São José dos Campos

Carreiras_Perfil 237Personal archivePhysicist Claudio Egalon, 52, has extensive expertise in fiber optics. He returned to Brazil in 2015 after obtaining approval for a project in the FAPESP Program to Support Research in Small Business (PAPPE/PIPE). He had been living in Los Angeles, and owned Science & Sensors, a company that since 2008 has been working to develop a fiber optic sensor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to measure the concentration of nutrients in liquid solutions for hydroponically grown plants. “During this project, I also successfully developed a colorimeter in the form of an educational kit. The device measures nutrients in plants grown in hydroponic environments,” he explains. Now, in the PAPPE/PIPE project, he is working on a sensor to measure the level of liquid in this type of plant down to nanometers. “I want to know how much water the plant consumes. This information helps evaluate how healthy a plant is.” In all of these sensors, Egalon uses side illumination optical fiber sensor technology, in which the light illuminates the cylindrical surface of the device. By using a number of LEDs along the fiber, this technique creates sensing points with just one detector.

Egalon graduated with a degree in physics from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and earned a master’s degree and PhD from the College of William & Mary, and a second PhD from Old Dominion University, both in the United States. Afterwards he went to work as a researcher at the NASA Langley Research Center, where he spent 10 years working with sensors and fiber optics. From 1993 to 1994, he was the first Brazilian to conduct microgravity experiments on the NASA KC-135 aircraft, used for training astronauts. In flight, weightlessness is created with parabolic maneuvers and passengers float inside the airplane. “I was on that flight six times,” he says.

After leaving NASA, he taught at the University of Puerto Rico and also worked at the US Air Force Laboratory, Philips Research Site, in New Mexico. In 1998 Egalon moved to Intelligent Optical Systems (IOS), a small sensor company near Los Angeles. He returned to Brazil in 2002 after his first PIPE project was accepted to develop a fiber sensor to identify chlorine ions in reinforced concrete, but he was unable to move on to phase two. “I went back to the United States and taught in schools while I sought funding for my projects,” he says. In 2006, he obtained financing from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a fiber optic sensor for relative humidity with applications in intelligent structures such as bridges and spaceships. Then he worked on two projects from USDA that lasted until 2011.
Over the years Egalon has accumulated 26 patents. “Now I am in São José dos Campos developing a research and consulting firm.”