Shedding New Light on Big Events

It's a long way from Terre Haute's Wabash Avenue to Hollywood Boulevard. But outside the 84th Academy Awards, Gerald Rea helped movie stars show off their fashion exclusives with a revolutionary lighting system that the 2004 Rose-Hulman graduate describes as "sunlight in a box."
   Rea, co-founder and CEO of Indianabased Stray Light Optical Technologies, was invited to help the Oscars go green. The lighting device was powered by another company's cutting-edge fuel cell. And, if that wasn't cool enough, "I got an all-access backstage pass."
   Not bad for a native of Scottsburg, Indiana who attended Rose Hulman because "I've always loved to create stuff. I just didn't know what kind of stuff I was going to create." He studied optical and mechanical engineering, and got several hands-on experiences at Rose Hulman Ventures.
   After graduating, he started a consulting business, doing research and development for large
manufacturers and industrial firms. "About four years ago, I started to look at my skill set and that of my team members [including Chief Technology Officer Robert Drake, a fellow mechanical engineering alumnus], and started to make a real business out of it. We went into high-efficiency plasma lighting."
   Rea's description of the technology sounds much simpler than it is: "We essentially create a small ball of plasma and float it in the middle of a quartz crystal. It's sunlight in a box," he says. The light fixture is long-lasting, energyefficient, and bright. "This is disruptive technology. It's not  
a new concept the surface of the sun is plasma-but its commercialization is really new."
   This year's Academy Awards wasn't
the only high-profile event lit by Rea's
newfangled light. It also illuminated the last manned shuttle launch for NASA.
   Getting Stray Light Optical
Technologies to this point clearly required exceptional engineering talent, but also lots of strategic planning and business smarts. And, that kind of learning, Rea says, could be an even bigger part of Rose-Hulman's future.
   "Rose-Hulman already does a 
worldclass job of preparing students for the real world," he says. "It really isn't about making it better, but deciding if Rose-Hulman is going to go beyond engineering, looking at entrepreneurship, and bringing more business-oriented processes into the curriculum." Engineers who can think entrepreneurially could be valuable to a lot of employers, he points out. "A lot of small players are very nimble, and a lot of companies are trying to make small departments more nimble."