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Optical Design & Engineering

A New Wave of Optical Engineering

Frank Wyrowski, with his work in wave-optical engineering and photon management, is a trendsetter in non-imaging optics and optical engineering.

From oemagazine February 2004
31 February 2004, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.5200402.0008

Frank Wyrowski, right, with SPIE 2003 President Tony DeMaria at the LightTrans booth at Laser 2003 in Munich, Germany.

Like many active SPIE members, Frank Wyrowski keeps very busy. Between teaching at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität (FSU; Jena, Germany) and consulting at LightTrans (Jena, Germany), the company he co-founded, Wyrowski somehow manages to play an active role at SPIE and still find time to spend with his sons Patrick and Alexander.

Early in life Wyrowski realized he had an aptitude for mathematics and, in fact, didn't develop an interest in physics until college. "Because of a lack of mathematics, the beauty of general physics and optics were not obvious to me," he explains. Focusing first on theoretical physics, he sought out a professor with a penchant for applied physics using theoretical physics and computers. The search led him to his future doctoral advisor, Olof Bryngdahl. "From him I learned a lot about the science and beauty of optics. Since then, I have loved optics," Wyrowski says.

At the beginning of his career in optics, Wyrowski focused on computer-generated holograms and the burgeoning field of diffractive optics. As one of the first researchers to use the term, Wyrowski's contributions to diffractive optics include the introduction of new encoding theories and various iterative and non-iterative encoding and design algorithms, in addition to research in picture halftoning and general algorithms for the manipulation of complex fields.

After a few years in industry, Wyrowski began teaching at FSU in 1997. His first project at the university focused on the use of diffractive optics in laser resonators. "However, the search for a better understanding of the role of diffractive optics in a larger context preoccupied me," he says.

This preoccupation soon turned into a realization for Wyrowski. He came to believe that for optical design, ray optics just wasn't enough to model systems for general light transformations. Thus, he began to focus on developing a better understanding of wave optics in optical engineering, "I became convinced that a wave-optical generalization of optical engineering is essential for the innovative potential of optics and photonics."

With this conviction, he founded LightTrans in 1999 with his wife Petra. The aim of the company is to incorporate innovations in wave-optical engineering into engineering services, products, and software to help customers create their own innovative photonics and optics products.

Wyrowski is now a technical consultant with LightTrans so that he can continue his work at the university. "I enjoy the freedom at universities to take the time to sort your thoughts and to refine your concepts. Moreover, it is very satisfying to teach young people. I am glad to work in both surroundings at the same time."

In the last few years, Wyrowski has focused on wave-optical engineering for photon management, which, he says, emphasizes the trend toward a flexible control of electromagnetic radiation and stresses the need for optical systems that realize optical functions beyond image forming. As it turns out, wave-optical engineering is the modeling base of photon management.

In fact, Wyrowski is the chair of the upcoming SPIE conference Photon Management, part of Photonics Europe in Strasbourg, France, this April. "I decided that a conference with the title Photon Management could serve to bring people from different fields of photonics and optics together who are all interested in understanding optical engineering beyond image-forming optics," Wyrowski says.

It seems it will bring together many people, as Wyrowski has received 60 submissions for this new conference. "That shows that there is a need to give a generalized understanding of optical engineering a space for information exchange and discussion," he says. "After Strasbourg and the experience there, I will consider how to strengthen and develop this information exchange and discussion in the optics community."

Along with this upcoming conference, Wyrowski also has been a chair or committee member for many SPIE conferences in the areas of holography, diffractive optics, and wave-optical design, including chairing the conferences Wave-Optical Systems Engineering I and II. In addition to writing journal articles and book chapters, often with his friend Jari Turunen, he has written numerous papers for SPIE proceedings in those same fields and teaches the SPIE short course "Introduction to Wave-Optical Engineering."

Wyrowski also is a member of the Board of Directors (2003-2005) and the Symposia, Membership, and Engineering, Science, and Technology Policy committees. "SPIE gives me a platform to influence the development of optics and photonics myself. I also feel responsible to contribute to a continuous improvement of SPIE's services for our community," he says.

But as busy as he is, Wyrowski still finds time to relax and enjoy life. He enjoys various sports, working out, power walking, and dancing. "It has turned out to be very important that in my free time I have ideally no link to my business," he says. "There are a lot of other things than optics and photonics making life as beautiful as it is."