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Nine students win big at SPIE Optical Design Competition: VR, AR, MR, at Photonics Europe

30 competitors vied for the award in Strasbourg, France, in a competition sponsored by digital tech giants including Microsoft, Jenoptik, Google, Oculus, Huawei, and Zemax

26 April 2018

Optical Design Competition Winners' Circle

WINNERS' CIRCLE: Back row: Robert Herrman, President Strasbourg Eurometropolis; Alain Risch, French Tech CES ambassador; Simon Thiele, Univ. Stuttgart; Shuaishuai Zhu, Harbin Inst. of Tech.; David Dunn, UNC-Chapel Hill; Zhujun Shi, Harvard Univ.; Bernard Kress, Microsoft; Guillaume Hert, French Tech Alsace. Front Row: Bharathwaj Narasimhan, Limbak 4PI S.L.; Stan Larroque, SL Process and HETIC; Ori Avayu, Tel Aviv Univ.; Miaomiao Xum The Univ. of Arizona; Austin Wilson, The Univ. of Arizona.

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA and CARDIFF, UK - At an SPIE Photonics Europe ceremony in Strasbourg, France, today, Ms. Zhujun Shi, of Harvard University; Mr. David Dunn, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Mr. Ori Avayu, of Tel Aviv University won the first SPIE Optical Design Competition, with a cash prize of €5,000 each.

The top score went to Harvard's Shi, whose presentation "Wide field-of-view waveguide displays enabled by polarization-dependent metagratings" featured the use of metamaterials to deliver high-quality images with possibilities for additional degrees of freedom in polarization manipulation, and a smaller form factor than traditional liquid crystal lenses.

Second prizes of €2,500 went to Ms. Miaomiao Xu, University of Arizona; Mr. Shuaishuai Zhu, Harbin Institute of Technology; and Mr. Simon Thiele, University of Stuttgart. Third place winners Mr. Bharathwaj Narasimhan, Limbak; Mr. Stan Larroque, SL Process; and Mr. Austin Wilson, University of Arizona, won Nvidia Titan X Graphics cards.

The cash and additional prizes worth more than €50,000 have been contributed by digital technology heavy-hitters such as Jenoptik, LightTrans, Google, Microsoft, Facebook/Oculus, Huawei Technologies, Leia, Amazon, Zeiss, Synopsys, Applied Materials, Lambda, Nvidia, and Zemax.

At the ceremony, prizes were awarded by a group of Strasbourg dignitaries representing the city and regional support for entrepreneurship and business development: Robert Herrman, President Strasbourg Eurometropolis; Rémy Banuls, Director Economic Development of Eurometropolis; Nicolas Pellerin, Director, Nextmed; Delphine Krieger, Innovation Chief of the Eurometropolis; and Guillaume Hert, French Tech Alsace.

The Eurometropolis of Strasbourg also thanked the sponsors by presenting them with a bespoke "Europtimist" trophy created by local sculptor Pierre Gaucher.

The brainchild of Microsoft Chief Optical Architect Bernard Kress and part of the new Digital Optics for Immersive Displays conference at SPIE Photonics Europe this year, the student competition showcased a stimulating optical design challenge, focusing on augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. The challenge was designed to help students to bridge the gap between traditional optical design and tangible industry expectations for contemporary immersive display products, as well as exposing them to some of industry's top companies. In two rapid-fire morning sessions, students made their three-minute pitches to technology leaders. The judges then made their decisions in time for an extended networking lunch.

"The Optical Design Challenge was an amazing experience," Kress said. "Its success was due to the quality of the students' design entries aiming at solving practical industrial problems in the exciting fields of VR and AR, and also to the commitment of the industrial sponsors which included some of the major high tech corporations in the world. This success speaks also highly to the dedication of SPIE as an International Society that thrives by reinventing itself constantly and proposing new ways for the students all around the world to interface with major industries at the forefront of technology by challenging them to solve real and exciting problems with cutting-edge optical technologies.

"I was very glad," he continued, "to see student entries from all over the world, including Europe, China, Middle East, US and Russia. Also, the impressive number of female optical engineers participating in the ODC challenge - with the first prize going to a female researcher - was very uplifting, and shows that new exciting research fields such as VR and AR have the power to attract a very diverse, inclusive and excelling group of optical engineering students. Eventually, such exciting new initiatives have the power to transform the gender representation and revolutionize the traditional field of optics and photonics."

The judges selecting the winners were:

Tim Baldsiefen (Jenoptik)
Jerry Carollo (Google)
Norbert Kerwien (Zeiss)
Joel Kollin (Microsoft)
Igor Landau (Opticsworks)
Kaan Aksit (Nvidia)
Scott McEldowney (Oculus)
Wayne McMillan (Applied Materials)
Chris Normanshire (Zemax)
Tish Shute (Huawei)
Angus Wu (Huawei)
Frank Wyrowski (LightTrans)

SPIE, which also runs the annual Startup Challenge at Photonics West in San Francisco, is planning on adding their Optical Design Competition to PW in January 2019.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, an educational not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based science, engineering, and technology. The Society serves nearly 264,000 constituents from approximately 166 countries, offering conferences and their published proceedings, continuing education, books, journals, and the SPIE Digital Library. In 2017, SPIE provided more than $4 million in support of education and outreach programs. www.spie.org.

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