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SPIE Professional January 2012

International optics: Through a global lens

ICO focuses its efforts on the developing world with the backing of its international committees.

By Maria L. Calvo

In 1946, just after World War II, a meeting of optics researchers took place in Paris. The optics industry in Europe was in critical shape. A group of eminent European scientists along with their colleagues from United States decided that a specific organization was needed to support the recovery and growth of optics.

The International Commission for Optics (ICO) was founded in 1947, with its main objective to restore optics-related industries in Europe and to incentivize and expand activities in the optics field. In the ensuing years, with the development of lasers and optical communications, the scope of ICO expanded to encompass photonics.

Some of the participants at the first official meeting of ICO held in 12-17 July 1948 at the Physics Laboratory of the Technische Hogeschool, Delft, Netherlands. Photo from ICO website

Of course, today's world is fundamentally different from the one in which the ICO was founded. But consistently through the years, ICO has focused its activities on those regions of the world which were—and are— less favored. Underlying its efforts is the goal of narrowing or eliminating the technological gap in the countries where scientific research and education lag behind.

ICO is organized into 52 Territorial Committee members on six continents. In 1999, ICO added a membership category for International Societies, which included SPIE, the European Optical Society (EOS), IEEE Photonics Society, and Optical Society of America (OSA). In 2002, the African Network LAM and Optics Within Life Science (OWLS) were also admitted.

The societies appoint representatives at the time of the Bureau elections, during the triannual general assembly. In August 2011, ICO-22 was held in Puebla, Mexico. The new Bureau, for the term 2011-2014, was elected by the General Assembly. Among those elected to key ICO roles were SPIE Fellow Duncan Moore (University of Rochester), ICO President, 2011-2014; SPIE member Angela Guzman (Florida Atlantic University), re-elected as secretary general; and SPIE Fellow James Harrington (Rutgers University), re-elected as treasurer. (See the full slate of elected officers: spie.org/ICO.)

From left to right: Maria Calvo; Vladimir Lazarev (president of the SPIE BMSTU Student Chapter, Moscow; Katarina Svanberg (SPIE 2011 President); Narine Gvorgian, 2011 secretary of organization of the conference celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the Yerevan University Student Chapter; Tygran Dadalian, president of the Yerevan University SPIE Student Chapter.

ICO sponsors international scientific meetings devoted to general and special topics in optics and photonics. It also supports optics and photonics programs at the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), in Trieste, Italy, operating under the aegis of UNESCO and IAEA.

Four different ICO awards are made to scientists in the optics and photonics community: the ICO Prize, the IUPAP Young Scientist Prize in Optics, the ICO Galileo Galilei Award, awarded for outstanding contributions to the field of optics achieved under comparatively unfavorable circumstances, and ICO/ICTP Gallieno Denardo Award, reserved for young researchers from developing countries.

 Winter College in Optics in Trieste, Italy
Winter College in Optics in Trieste, Italy, Travelling lecture program

The ICO Travelling Lecture Program supports lectures on modern aspects of optics by scientists of international reputation. The program is focused specially at developing nations, but is not necessarily restricted to them. The ICO Newsletter, with a total of four annual issues, is disseminated to all the ICO Territorial Committees (www.ico-optics.org/newsletters.html)

ICO participates in Education and Training in Optics and Photonics (ETOP). The ETOP Long Range Advisory Committee includes three professional societies: IEEE Photonics Society, OSA, and SPIE, as well as the ICO. Traditionally, SPIE publishes the ETOP Proceedings series, a total of 11 volumes. All the proceedings are free for downloading from the ICO website and SPIEDigitalLibrary.org. The next ETOP Conference will be held in Tunisia, March 2012, the first time in an African country.

Another important collaboration between SPIE and ICO takes place at the annual Winter College in Optics, held at the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy. The annual meeting of the Trieste System for Optical Sciences and Applications Advisory Group also takes place at ICTP. The group was formed by the late Gallieno Denardo to promote optical sciences in the developing world. Denardo received the 2005 SPIE Educator Award for his pioneering work in education in optics through programs addressed to young scientists from less favored regions of the world.

SPIE Vice President H. Philip Stahl, senior optical physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, served six years as the SPIE-appointed vice president to the ICO. He says the ICO's outreach activities are especially important in countries that are developing their scientific efforts. "The ICO has a special place in the world of optics," giving SPIE and other organizations better access to assist researchers and students in the developing world, and vice versa.

Stahl has now been followed in the position by SPIE Fellow and Past President María Yzuel, professor at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Yzuel also served as ICO elected Vice-President for the terms 1990-1993 and 1993-1996.

ICO also participates in the international program: Active Learning in Optics and Photonics (ALOP), with special emphasis on Latin American high schools. The ALOP team has presented 13 workshops since the program's launch in 2003 with support from the ICTP, SPIE, UNESCO, and other organizations. The team received the 2011 SPIE Educator Award for its work, and the award presentation took place at the Winter College in Trieste.

Through close cooperation between professional international organizations, such as SPIE and ICO, programs in optics and photonics are supported and strengthened, with the goal of building a more balanced and sustainable world for our future generations.

Maria L. Calvo



SPIE Fellow Maria L. Calvo is the past president of the ICO and a professor at Universidad Complutense de Madrid.


The global approach to optics

Joseph Goodman SPIE Fellow Joseph Goodman (ICO President 1987-1990), attended his first ICO meeting in the UK in 1969. At that time, there were only a few organizations dedicated to the exchange of information in optics, "and the ICO was really the only international optics organization around," he says.

Today, the ICO mission has expanded and it has taken on a prominent role in the developing world.

"The area in which it can have the most impact now is promoting optics and cooperation in optics in developing countries," Goodman says.

International connections

Since its inception, ICO has been an Affiliated External Commission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP). In 2005, ICO became a Scientific Associate of the International Council for Science (ICSU).

The foundational ICO objectives continue to apply at present and into the foreseeable future: the expansion of optics and photonics in the world of science, while enhancing links with education, industry and technology.

For more information, visit www.ico-optics.org.

ICO, SPIE support Ukraine event

ICO, SPIE, and other organizations supported the 10th International Conference on Correlation Optics in Ukraine last September where SPIE presented awards for best student papers. Winners were:

  • A. and E. Isaeva, Saratov State University (Russia)
  • SPIE member Mariia Pashchenko, Kharkiv Institute of Low Temperatures, National Academy of Sciences (Ukraine)
  • Krzysztof Pokorski, Warsaw Technology Institute (Poland)
  • Svetlana Sviridova, Odessa National University (Ukraine)
  • Alexei V. Vokov, Institute of Physics, National Academy of Sciences (Ukraine)

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201201.24

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