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SPIE Professional April 2010

Photonics for a Better World

SPIE Professional highlights optics and photonics technologies that bring tangible gains to humanity.
Earthquake Imagery

SPIE extended deep condolences to the people of Haiti and Chile after devastating earthquakes earlier this year and encouraged members and friends to support relief efforts.


DigitalGlobe satellite image of Port Au Prince, Haiti, after the January earthquake.

Sophisticated imaging systems from Rochester Institute of Technology, Digital Globe, NASA, ESA, RapidEye, ImageCat, and other organizations were used in the emergency response in Haiti and to show the dimensions of the destruction. The images will also be used to aid reconstruction.

RIT scientists and graduate students aided the effort in Haiti by mapping the disaster zone, coupling a high-resolution color imagery and thermal IR system it created for the U.S. Forest Service with Kucera's LIDAR topographical sensing system.

Funded by the World Bank, and in collaboration with ImageCat Inc., the RIT team spent five days in January flying over the disaster zone to meticulously map the area to aid in crisis management and eventual reconstruction of the city. The twin engine Piper Navajo, operated by Kucera International, an Ohio-based aerial mapping company, flew from Puerto Rico and refueled daily in the Dominican Republic. The plane flew at 3000 feet over Port-au-Prince and other areas badly hit by the earthquake.

RIT scientist Jason Faulring operated the camera system to survey damage, detect fires, chemical spills and surface contamination on lakes or ponds. George Tatalovich and James Bowers were the pilots flying for Kucera International. Bowers also operated the LIDAR sensor, which detects and measures collapsed buildings and standing structures damaged by the earthquake. More 

Satellite Instruments See Iceland Volcanic Cloud, Gulf Oil Spill
As Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano spewed a huge cloud of ash into the atmosphere last month, disrupting air travel across many continents, the world turned to satellite images provided by NASA and ESA to monitor the aviation hazards.  

An SPIE Newsroom article about the images of the volcanic ash produced by NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on the Aqua satellite was one of the most read articles in the SPIE Newsroom for April. The AIRS instrument suite contains a sensor that captures radiation in four bands of the visible/near-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Data from three bands combine to create "visible" images of the ash plume as it drifted over the North Atlantic and Europe.

DigitalGlobe, a leading provider of commercial, high-resolution earth-imagery products and services, has provided satellite images of the earthquakes, this spring's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Tennessee floods to those involved with the cleanup effort. DigitalGlobe is sharing pictures of the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico on a Flickr feed.

The ESA's analysis of and satellite photos from the volcanic activity, the oil spill, and other environmental problems are updated frequently on its "Observing the Earth" web page. The ESA acquired the images from its its Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) and Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) aboard Envisat, the largest earth observation spacecraft ever built. Envisat carries 10 optical and radar instruments for continuous monitoring of the Earth's land, atmosphere, oceans, and ice caps.

Handheld Ultrasound

General Electric Co., Siemens AG, and other companies that make medical-imaging equipment are rolling out handheld ultrasound machines the size of a cellphone or iPod.

With the vision of making healthcare more accessible to underserved populations, manufacturers expect the handheld units can also reduce the need for tests and referrals during physical examinations.

"Our vision is that, one day, every clinical procedure will require ultrasound the way everything requires a stethoscope today," Omar Ishrak, president and CEO for clinical systems at GE Healthcare, said of the Vscan unit.

Siemens has the Acuson P10 handheld scanner and Signostics of California produces its Signos Personal Ultrasound machine.

Handheld Dental Laser

Biolase Technology Inc. has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin selling a handheld laser for use in dental cleaning procedures. The laser is the size of a large pen and is operated by hand, with no foot pedals or cords.

The iLase can be used in 25 different procedures, including treating gingivitis and cleaning between the gums and teeth to treat periodontal disease, the company said. The company said it will begin shipping the device in April.

Robots Might Have a Human Touch

SPIE member Jeroen Missinne and colleagues at Ghent University in Belgium have developed a flexible, artificial "skin" for robots that is embedded with optical sensors.

Their work, reported in the December 2009 issue of New Scientist magazine, was carried out under the framework of two projects: the FP7 Photonic Skins for Optical Sensing project and the Flexible Artificial Optical Skin project supported in part by the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology (IWT).

The researchers are developing a prototype that could detect subtle changes in pressure and distinguish textures. The skin consists of two layers of parallel polymer strips lying perpendicular to each other to form a grid and separated by a thin sheet of plastic. Light is constantly fed into the polymer strips, which act like optical fibers in that their geometry encourages internal reflection and reduces light loss.

When pressure is applied anywhere on the skin, the strips are pushed closer together and allow light to escape from one set into the other. The detection of this leakage by surgical robots would enhance feedback to surgeons.

Winter College On Optics and Energy

This year's Winter College on Optics and Energy at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) brought international experts and students together to share developments in solar energy conversion, structures for light harvesting and other optics and photonics technologies.

Cleber Mendonca, at left, and Maria CalvoDuring the two-week event in Trieste, Italy, a young Brazilian physicist whose work bridges the fields of optics and chemistry won the 2010 International Commission for Optics (ICO) /ICTP Gallieno Denardo Award. Cleber Renato Mendonca of the Institute of Physics at the University of Sao Paulo uses laser pulses to study the interactions of light and matter for applications in optical transistors, microfluidics, and fluorescent microscopy.

He received his award from SPIE Fellow and ICO President Maria Calvo.

SPIE is a co-sponsor of the annual Winter College and provides participants with free access to the SPIE Digital Library.


Germanium Laser

Lionel Kimerling and his MIT research group have demonstrated the first laser built from germanium. The laser can emit wavelengths of light useful for optical communications and is the first germanium laser to operate at room temperature.

The development could be an important step towards creating optical components such as lasers from silicon rather than direct-gap materials such as indium phosphide. The breakthrough could lead to cheaper and more efficient optical communications systems and even optical computers that use light instead of electricity.


Get the latest information about how photonics is making a better world at spie.org/newsroom, and read more articles in this series.


Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org  

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201004.11

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