24_Andrew Ouderkirk

Illuminate Innovation


Let there be light! Andrew Ouderkirk is the creator of Multilayer Optical Films, which enhance the performance of laptop screens, windshields, and window glass for buildings.


Andrew Ouderkirk
Corporate scientist, 3M
St. Paul, Minnesota


What is the big idea?
3M Light Management Technology 3M ™ Multilayer Optical Films: A Revolution in Physics Multilayer Optical Films were invented by Dr. Andrew Ouderkirk, a corporate scientist with 3M Film/Light Management Technology Center, by combining multiple structures and intricate layers of materials. These films are made of several hundred layers, yet are as thin as a sheet of paper. The revolution is achieving the performance of exotic materials with the elegance achieved through nature. The result is a degree of reflectivity that is one of the highest of any substance created. The non-metal mirror film reflects up to 99.5 percent of light, allowing light to be transported at efficiencies never before possible.


What was your creative spark?
Light Management: An Inspiration Found in Nature Dr. Ouderkirk wanted to replicate the precision of reflective structures found in nature. The color of a butterfly’s wing is not created by pigment, but by light reacting with intricate patterns layered on the wing. This interaction produces brilliant hues that change with the angle of light and also holds true with the colors found in peacocks, blue jays and rainbow trout. The challenge is to apply the same concept through Multilayer Optical Films. Replicating how light reflects in nature’s wonders, Multilayer Films provide amazing solutions for making laptop screens brighter, increasing the efficiency of fiber optics and a host of other applications.

Why is the idea so compelling?
New-to-the-World Technology In Multilayer Optical Films, reflective performance is combined with the cost and flexibility advantages of plastics. Your hand-held computer probably contains a 900-layer film. New films are being used to improve the brightness of computer displays and in solar control films for use in automobile windshields and building glass. The technology provides new ways to improve the way the interior of homes is lit, and cars are cooled while cutting the use of air conditioning.

How or why did the innovation spread?
Product applications for 3M Multilayer Optical Films Dr. Ouderkirk created a filter that increases the brightness of laptop computer screens, while saving energy at the same time. Similar technology is now ubiquitous in hand-held computers, providing clarity to displays. This same approach is taken today in other forms, such as:

  • Automotive: Blocks out infrared light or heat, keeping cars cooler and saving fuel with less drain on air conditioning.
  • Solar Light Pipes: Reflects light from rooftop into lower-level rooms, saving energy costs.
  • Glazing: Applied to windows of commercial buildings to keep out heat rays.
  • Telecommunications: Uses filters for more effective optical fiber communication.
  • Security: Provides unique appearance that cannot be emulated.

Read more entries from the Fast 50 2002