SPIE Infrared Imaging Systems: 30 Years of Value Engineering to the IR Community

EO/IR engineers take a walk down memory lane
29 April 2019
By Karen Thomas

SPIE Fellow Jerry Holst, conference chair for the SPIE IIS conference
At SPIE DCS19, SPIE Fellow Jerry Holst was presented a plaque for chairing and supporting the IIS for 30 years.

The SPIE Infrared Imaging Systems: Design, Analysis, Modeling and Testing conference (IIS) is one of the longest-running conferences in the SPIE technical series. IIS held its 30th annual meeting at SPIE Defense and Commercial Sensing in April.

In a special presentation, SPIE Senior Member Michael Soel of FLIR Systems, Inc., walked the audience "down memory lane" as he discussed how the wealth of information, training, and collaboration resulting from this conference has helped form, shape, and grow the careers of sensor-systems engineers around the world.

Soel noted that the IIS conference focuses on fundamental and core technology, relevant to EO/IR, optical, and laser systems engineers and technologists. Many SPIE short courses are directly related to IIS technology, such as radiometry, atmospheric modeling, sensor measurements, and image processing.

"Over the years, as a result of this conference, numerous collaborations and professional relationships have been fostered between government, industry, and regular conference participants," said Soel.

Thirty years of mentorship
The IIS conference was initiated in 1990 with SPIE Fellow Gerald "Jerry" Holst of JCD Publishing as conference chair. Soel explained how Holst had led and shaped this conference over the last 30 years. "It's been more than just looking at abstracts," said Soel. "He's really jelled ideas, challenged us to go out there and get papers from folks, and really involved the IR community - expanding the program committee and encouraging technology innovation. I really appreciate Jerry's mentorship over the years."

Holst, who taught several SPIE short courses and authored/coauthored papers for IIS, noted afterward that the future of the conference wasn't always so bright. About 15 years ago, the number of papers was decreasing, and funding for travel was decreasing at many government and academic institutions. He began to consider having the conference every two years instead of annually. "If you asked me back then about the future, I would have said that I educated everybody, and everybody has my books," said Holst. "My classes will be dropped and no more book sales."

Along with (partially) restored travel funds, many of Holst's contemporaries have retired and the younger engineers who are replacing them need training -- and Holst's books.

"With the new group of young engineers, companies seem more interested in education," said Holst. "There's been a rebirth of our work, and life is exciting again."

Popular topics at SPIE IIS conference
Part of Michael Soel's presentation included some of the popular topics at the IIS conference over the years.

Value-added Proceedings
As any systems engineer would be, Soel was very methodical in preparing his presentation. "I went through every IIS paper in the SPIE Digital Library," said Soel to a few audience gasps. "I counted them manually, did some statistics, figured out what were the most popular topics over the years, and how has the technology trended. At the end of this process, I really agree that there's been tremendous value, not only to all of us here, but to the whole IR community."

After browsing through about 1,000 papers, Soel downloaded 300 because "I thought, 'Wow, I want to remember these 300 papers, I want to use them, relearn what I've forgotten and what I never picked up on.'" From those 300, he chose 55 "notable/must-read papers" from the last 30 years, which was not an easy task -- there were just too many ground-breaking papers.

"It got so bad that at the end here, that I grouped 2015 through 2018, because the papers were just getting that good," said Soel. "This shows the amount of work, interest, and passion that people have in this field, both in the labs and in industry, for really trying to optimize system performance and share it with people."

Soel also noted that toward the end of his reasearch he found the 15-page white paper, The Value of Proceedings. "So they thought through this; they think it's valuable, and I agree with them," said Soel. He added that the IIS papers were written by industry leaders, and the IIS conference is the place to meet them and really learn from them.

"This conference is extremely relevant to the work we do every day," said Soel. "It's the best open source of information, in my opinion, for EO/IR systems engineers."


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