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SPIE Professional January 2013

Bringing light-based technologies into the light

SPIE President's Letter

By William Arnold

SPIE President 2013 William ArnoldMany of the world’s great wonders and successes are made possible by optics and photonics. Despite the technology’s ubiquity, policy and funding decision makers often are unaware of the field’s numerous and profound contributions to jobs, economic vitality, health, and community safety.

In the keen competition for public funding and priority setting, technologies that are not well recognized risk being ignored. Many who govern us do not understand the huge impact that innovations such as the laser or the wafer scanner have made on the world’s economy.

Progress in nanoelectronics is paced by developments in lithography, enabled by advancements in light sources, lenses, and precision mechanics, and guided by ultraprecise optical metrology.

Chips in smartphones and servers are all literally made by photons. The Internet and the World Wide Web are built on networks of lasers and fiber optics. Images captured by cameras and CMOS devices educate and entertain. Photographs, the precious items most often saved when disasters strike, can be digitally preserved in the cloud: huge server farms wired by fiber and stuffed with processors and memories made by optical lithography.

X-rays and CT scans guide the diagnosis and possible cures for the most terrible diseases. Sunlight is converted to energy by non-imaging optics and silicon.

With such successes, our community should be well known! Sadly, we know it is not. Even our friends and family members often don’t even know what we work on or what illuminates our minds.

Optics and photonics are ‘essential’ technologies

In 2012, the U.S. National Research Council released the report, “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation,” outlining several important roles our fields play in modern society and identifying important new opportunities in our sphere and adjoining spaces.

Written by a National Academies’ committee chaired by SPIE 2006 President and SPIE Fellow Paul McManamon and SPIE Fellow Alan Willner, the report was inspired by the “Harnessing Light” report of 1998, one of the first attempts to quantify the impact that optics and photonics make on our world. Since then, similar reports around the world have helped build awareness of the vital role we scientists and engineers in the light fields play in advancing technology, communications, and health and education possibilities.

The first report had a large impact internationally, and SPIE hopes the new one will as well.

Other reports that have helped identify opportunities for photonics include:

  • Photonics21, the European technology platform, has written two strategic research agendas, in 2006 and in 2010.
  • The Canadian Photonics Consortium issued a 2009 report on “Illuminating a World of Opportunity: Photonics in Canada.”
  • The German “Agenda Photonik 2020” report was issued in 2010.

This latest report gives us a new opportunity to show those in policy leadership who we are and what we can do. SPIE is taking the lead, along with other scientific societies including the OSA, the APS, LIA, and the IEEE Photonics Society, in bringing this enlightening message to the forefront.

Photonics initiative for USA?

We are particularly hopeful that the United States will launch a National Photonics Initiative (NPI), as recommended in the “Essential Technologies” report.

The NPI would be a collaborative effort by industry, government, and academia to develop a more integrated approach to managing public and private R&D spending in photonics; advance the research goals put forward in the report; and improve the collection and reporting of R&D and economic data in the field.

In just the last five months of 2012, SPIE hosted and sponsored more than a dozen events in New York, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Florida, Washington, DC, and elsewhere to publicize the report and encourage the optics community to communicate with policy makers, business contacts, and others about the enabling and essential role of optics and photonics in the economy.

If you will be attending SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco, I invite you to attend a talk by SPIE Executive Director Eugene Arthurs on government initiatives and opportunities for growth in photonics on Thursday 7 February to learn how you can communicate the message in your organization.

Arthurs keynote talk will be at 8:45 am in the Moscone Center.

  • See related article about the NPI.
  • To read more about optics and photonics as essential technologies or to download the 2012 NRC report: opticsandphotonics.org.
  • Join the discussion on Twitter: #HarnessingLight

William H. Arnold is 2013 SPIE President. Learn more about him in separate article.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201301.01

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