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'Ubiquitous yet invisible' photonics industry on growth path, SPIE CEO tells Hong Kong conference

01 December 2011

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Optical engineering holds many solutions for the world's problems now and in the future, SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs said in a talk at the recent conference in Hong Kong; above, an illustration from the talk.

 

BELLILNGHAM, Washington, USA -- The demand for "ubiquitous yet invisible" photonics technology and its many applications is large today and on the way to becoming "enormous," SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs told participants last week at the Hong Kong Optical Engineering International Conference (HKOEIC2011). The meeting was sponsored by the Hong Kong Optical Engineering Society (HKOES) and held in the Hong Kong Productivity Council building.

Consumer products using or manufactured with optics are everywhere - computers, flat-panel televisions and monitors, tablets, smartphones, MP3 players, broadband internet, security and defense systems, medical imaging and diagnostics, laser surgery, light-based cancer treatments, solar energy, solid-state lighting (SSL), and much more.

Yet many in the general public don't recognize optics and photonics as the technology they are looking at or even through, Arthurs said. Even in higher education, he noted, the field is rarely recognized as a discipline, but more often considered to be part of physics or electrical engineering programs.

Nonetheless, in 2010 the photonics sector was responsible for an estimated 1.7 million jobs, and an estimated $22 billion was spent on photonics R&D in the commercial sector.

"Asia is the leading source of much photonics innovation and will continue to be an important driver in future growth," Arthurs said. "The region's semiconductor and lighting industries in particular are responsible for important recent advances in efficiencies as well as research discoveries."

Upward trends

Among growth indicators, the number of mobile devices that shipped in 2010 -- more than 80 million, according to one source -- is expected to more than double in 2012. The IHS iSuppli report defines these as mobile broadband devices that provide high-speed wireless connectivity.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) cell production more than doubled in 2010 over 2009, and huge new investments in China will help boost further growth.

Falling prices for solar PV systems will help make PV more competitive with established energy sources, particularly when collateral costs for established energy sources  are added in - environmental costs associated with fossil fuels, clean-up of polluted water and  earthquake remediation associated with fracking, etc.

Arthurs noted that SSL is a strong and growing sector in Asia in particular, which supplies 72% of world SSL production. China is making new investments, and in early November announced it would phase out incandescent bulbs, beginning with a ban on the import and sale of 100-watt and higher bulbs as of 1 October 2012.

Encouraging adoption

"Political and social factors will be important for the growth of both solar energy and SSL," Arthurs said. He cautioned that "engineers often become frustrated with this, and neglect our role in encouraging adoption of new technology by clearly informing the public."

One question in the complex lighting picture is when will SSL take a significant share of the estimated $110 billion global lighting market. The U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that roughly equal quantities of LED, incandescent, and compact fluorescent bulbs will be purchased for residential lighting by 2035. Arthurs suggested the LED share might be greater, and before 2035.

Having more efficient lighting won't necessarily lower energy consumption proportionately, Arthurs noted. As Jeffrey Tsao of Sandia National Labs illustrated in a recent plenary talk at SPIE Optics + Photonics, the availability of cheaper lighting sources is expected to lead to more energy consumption overall.

While in Hong Kong, Arthurs also spoke at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, visited several universities, and met with industry and other colleagues from HKOES. (See photos from the visits below.) SPIE has long-standing ties with many members of HKOES dating from their involvement in a former regional chapter of SPIE that helped formed the nucleus for HKOES.

Quality of life

At HKOEIC, Arthurs highlighted areas in which photonics technology is improving life around the world.  Among them:

  • Integrated photonics systems are expected to help speed computer processing and to decrease the cost of energy to power computers.
  • Laser sintering 3D printers for manufacturing are streamlining processes for numerous products, and increasing automobile efficiencies through more accurately machined and lighter-weight parts.
  • Fusion energy systems now in the early stages of development at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the High Power Laser Energy Research facility (HiPER), and the Extreme Light Infrastructure project (ELI) will ultimately provide new clean energy sources.
  • In biophotonics, advances in microscopy for on-chip imaging of cells and blood samples are revolutionizing healthcare in remote regions by eliminating delays in diagnosis of conditions such as malaria, and new light-based techniques are detecting diseases such as cancer sooner, imaging them more accurately, and treating them with new noninvasive modalities.
  • Communications and image processing applications spinning off from defense uses are resulting in increased community security, weather forecasting, and other public safety uses.
  • LADAR spin-off applications have been developed for fields as diverse as archaeology in a 3D survey of ruins of a buried Mayan City, and infrastructure planning such as aerial 3D scans to evaluate deployment of solar energy systems.

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HKOES board members and other attendees celebrate a successful conclusion to their 2011 conference. From left, Kany Zhou (Hong Kong Productivity Council), Coffee Poon (Hong Kong Productivity Council), Jack Tam Wai Wing (Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education), Nelson Sze-Chun Chan (City University of Hong Kong), Derek Louie (Hong Kong Productivity Council), Jeremy Chang (Edmund Optics), Aaron Ho (Chinese University of Hong Kong), Larry Yuan (Nankai University), Eugene Arthurs (SPIE), Anthony Mannion (Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education), and Andrew Yuk-Sun Cheng (Ample Link International Holdings).

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SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs speaks on the global photonics market.

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Above from left, Qitao Lue of Han's Laser and Eugene Arthurs before a laser-etched brass wall display.


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From left, Eugene Arthurs, Jack Tam Wai Wing, Aaron Ho, Derek Louie, and Jimmy Lo during a visit to CREE offices.


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HKOES board members and Eugene Arthurs at a demonstration of LED display technology at Lighthouse.


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The HKOES group visit the Hong Kong offices of Oclaro.

 

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 180,000 constituents from 168 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. SPIE provided over $2.3 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2010.

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