VANCOUVER, Wash. — What do traffic lights, cell phones and digital clocks have in common? They all use sapphire wafer crystals as their light source, and a professor at Washington State University Vancouver is determined to optimize the production of these wafers.

Al Segall, engineering program coordinator and associate professor of mechanical and materials engineering at WSU Vancouver, was recently awarded an $82,500, two-year grant by the Washington Technology Center for his project, “Optimization of Sizing and Finishing Processes for the Manufacturing of Sapphire Wafers.”

Focusing on sapphire wafer production, Segall is working with Saint-Gobain Crystals and Detectors (formerly Bicron Crystal Products) of Washougal to examine ways to increase efficiency and quality. The wafers are used to create light emitting diodes (LEDs), which act as a light source in a number of electronic applications. Saint-Gobain Crystals and Detectors will provide an additional $27,500 in co-funding.

The WTC is a collaborative state, industry and research university enterprise meant to move promising technologies into the private sector.

Segall also just received a $375,000, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program. The grant will support the start-up of his project, “Development of a Split-Beam Method for Improved Laser Machining in Ceramics.” This research will focus on developing ways to model the cutting and fracture process and ultimately improve the quality of laser machining methods for ceramics.