Alain Chandonnet, the charmer of light

Alain Chandonnet, le charmeur de lumière

The charmer of light

It came into existence the year the prototype Apollo spacecraft was launched, the carbon dioxide laser was invented, the Higgs boson and the quark model were discovered. 1964 also opened the door wide to magnetic resonance imaging and a Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for work on quantum electronics. Dragon, according to the Chinese horoscope, we could almost have predicted that Alain Chandonnet would one day burst into flames. One thing is certain, the president and CEO of the National Optical Institute (INO) was born under a lucky star.

Little guy, this son of civil servants dreamed of astronomy. The cosmos, the Big Bang, the light which had traveled more than 13 billion years before constellating the sky of Quebec, his hometown. All this bewitched him. But when he began his studies at Laval University, INO had just been born and the Valcartier Research Center was already developing the most powerful lasers in the world. Discovering a fascination for photonics and the quantum universe, the science behind lasers, Alain swaps astronomy for physics in the field of optics. He will not yet get the moon, but his doctorate, then a diploma in business administration.

Over the 30 years he spent in the stratosphere of high technology and entrepreneurship, Alain Chandonnet, among others, co-founded TeraXion and Handyem, companies respectively specializing in optical components for high-speed telecommunications and in devices that can provide medical diagnoses in just a few hours. As president of Optel Medevon, he also ensured innovation in the inspection and traceability of medical devices. Then in 2017, the man who had started his career at INO was approached to return and occupy the position of CEO

“In the country, the majority of businesses are SMEs. They rarely have the know-how and the means to develop a product that they would greatly need to improve their activities and their productivity. In the field of photonics and optics, we are able to make this transition between a university laboratory discovery and an industrialist who has the expertise to manufacture it. »

The science of light is an infinitely vast world. Coupled with electronics and artificial intelligence, photonics is breaking boundaries. The company headed by Alain Chandonnet is very active in the space industry and security spheres. For example, the broad electromagnetic spectrum light makes it essential both for cameras intended for space and for the identification of dangerous substances or even for the early detection of forest fires. In the biomedical field, there is no shortage of examples. Thus, for blood banks, INO has developed a blood disinfection system based on ultraviolet light. The laser is also used in hip surgery. It allows alignment with millimeter level precision and no longer on the order of centimeters.

Agriculture is no exception. With a team of 215 people, 70% of whom have advanced technical training, INO is working to alleviate the labor shortage by focusing on robotic vision to ensure harvests. He began picking broccoli and, in greenhouses, picking cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables.

According to Alain Chandonnet, the challenge was particularly important in the mushroom sector which requires darkness, manure and humidity. In addition to being very fragile, growing quickly and having to be picked within a very short window, the harvest is often compromised by a high turnover of staff.  We have developed a particular spectroscopy technique. The device walks over the stalls and analyzes their physicochemical properties. When they are ripe, a small laser dot marks them. The operator does not need any expertise. All he has to do is pick them up. »

In the agri-food industry, soil analysis is another achievement that is the pride of his company. After having moved heaven and earth with Logiag and a few partners, the system developed makes it possible to evaluate the composition of a soil in less than a minute and to optimize the spreading of fertilizers. Better. Thanks to the sophistication of the device and the power of the lasers, the work is now done without even needing to move the earth! To make matters worse, this precision technology gives farmers the possibility of knowing the CO2 capture capacity in their soil and monetizing it on the carbon exchange.

In the multitude of areas that INO has tackled, more than 6,500 solutions will have been implemented and no fewer than 75 technology transfers will have enabled companies to benefit from a competitive advantage. At the speed at which light rushes into the night of the future, it's not tomorrow that the 58-year-old CEO will want to retire. He still has light years of exploration ahead of him.

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