• Individual Members
  • Early Career Members
  • Student Members
  • Corporate Members
  • SPIE Professional Magazine
  • SPIE Professional Archives and Special Content
    Contact SPIE Professional
    Photonics for a Better World
    Open Access SPIE Professional
    Entrepreneurs SPIE Professional
  • Visiting Lecturers
  • Women In Optics
  • BACUS Technical Group
Print PageEmail Page
SPIE Professional April 2012

Rebuilding in Japan with Photonic Polymers

Photonic polymer fibers proposed for reconstructing communication systems after 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami

By Kathy Sheehan

Photonics for a better world

The resiliency of the Japanese people following the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami has been compared to a human bandage. As the cleanup and rebuilding continue in Japan, an international group of scientists active in photonic polymer research is recommending that photonics technologies be used to create an equally resilient communications infrastructure in the event of another such disaster.

“Photonic polymers will strengthen that bandage” and help people reconnect and bond with each other, says Toshikuni Kaino, professor emeritus at Tohoku University in Sendai, a visiting professor at Keio University, and an attendee at the first International Conference on Advanced Photonic Polymers (ICAPP).

The December 2011 conference brought together international representatives from industry, government, and academia to collaboratively propose ways of contributing to the rebuilding of communication systems in Japan with photonic polymers. It was chaired by Keio University’s Yasuhiro Koike and Tokyo Institute of Technology's Seizo Miyata


image of Yasuhiro Koike, Katarina Svanberg and Sune Svanberg
Yasuhiro Koike (left) shows Katarina and Sune Svanberg a representation of how two people in an office or home could interact and/or bond with colleagues far away through a display. The seated doll models were made to resemble the Svanbergs, and the dolls pictured in the mock LCD display were created to resemble Koike and his colleagues.

Although Japan has been in the forefront of optical communication technologies and had a modern communications infrastructure, the country's communication systems were knocked out for many days when disaster struck 11 March 2011, leaving whole communities of people unable to communicate with family, friends, and colleagues for a long time.

Systems and devices based on photonic polymers, LCDs, and dynamic holograms were advanced at the conference as a way to restore voice and video communications and allow “face-to-face” information sharing in real-time during or shortly after a disaster.

Communications network is a lifeline for bonding

Toshi Kaino“High-speed and large-volume transmission is very much needed when disasters happen,” Kaino says. A working communications network is an indispensable lifeline for social and economic activities and human bonding, especially during major catastrophes, he adds.

Photonic polymers are easily installed and repaired and have 100 times the signal-processing speed of silicon photonics, Kaino says. Other benefits of high-speed, graded-index plastic optical fibers (GI POFs) over glass optical fibers, electric wire, and wireless systems include their safety for residential use and assured electromagnetic compatibility.

Some 750 people attended the two-day conference in Yokohama and contributed to the lively discussions about the importance of photonics innovation as well as cooperation and collaboration across national borders during times of disasters. Discussion also centered on the need for for human bonding and connecting after natural disasters.

Optical technologies are energy-efficient, too

In addition to technical presentations on active and passive polymers and materials, recent research on nano-fibers, plasmonic OLEDs, sensors, 3D optical interconnects using self-written waveguides, single-photon devices, POF models, birefringence compensation, and related topics were presented.

Researchers said a new communications network with photonic polymers in Japan could power energy-efficient LCDs for residential, commercial, and high-security settings. For example, residents in one region could video-conference from their living room with family members elsewhere. These displays could become the “wherever window” of the home, Kaino says.

Live, secure networks could also be established at nuclear power plants, like the one at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, for control and security. As Japan struggled with a rescue effort from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the tsunami, it faced the worst nuclear emergency since Chernobyl as explosions and leaks of radioactive gas took place in three reactors at Fukushima, which suffered partial meltdowns. Communication problems exacerbated the crisis.

image of JapanA Keio University research program funded by the FIRST program and the Strategic Innovation (S-Innovation) project, supported by the Japan Science and Technology (JST) agency, have already begun working on innovations with optical waveguides, POFs, and high-definition LCDs to build such a resilient system. The Japan Broadcasting Corp. and the Sharp Corp. are also supporting the programs.

Among the speakers at ICAPP were Koike, the core scientist for the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) FIRST program, which supports innovative science and technology R&D; Miyata, who is also program officer of the JST’s S-Innovation program; and Kaino, who reported on the ICAPP 2011 in a keynote presentation co-authored with Koike and Miyata at SPIE Photonics West in January. Both Kaino and Koike were co-chairs for the Organic Photonic Materials and Devices conference at Photonics West.

Plenary speakers at ICAPP were Koike, who gave a status report on using photonic polymers for face-to-face communication, and Sune Svanberg, former chairman of the Nobel Prize Committee in Physics, whose talk covered the benefits of telecommunications technology in applied optical spectroscopy.

Other speakers included 2011 SPIE President Katarina Svanberg, who discussed laser spectroscopy in the detection and treatment of human malignancies, and SPIE Fellow Duncan Moore, president of the International Commission on Optics and vice provost of entrepreneurship at University of Rochester.


Photonics can strengthen the "human bandage."

 --Note: A version of this article appeared in the online-only issue of the January 2012 SPIE Professional magazine.

Photonics for a Better World

photonics imageOptical and photonics technologies and the people who work with them have brought tangible social, environmental, health, and economic gains to humanity. Join the discussion celebrating the many ways that photonics are applied in creating a better world at PhotonicsforaBetterWorld.org.

Read more articles in the SPIE Professional series at spie.org/betterworld.

Do you have a story to tell about the work that you or colleagues do to make the world a better place? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

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

To receive a print copy of SPIE Professional, the SPIE member magazine, become an SPIE member.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201204.02

Ready for the benefits of individual SPIE membership?
Join or Renew
Already a member? Get access to member-only content.
Sign In

Like SPIE on Facebook

SPIE Facebook page

The SPIE Facebook page is a great place to find and share news on optics programs and photonics events.


Reach a highly qualified audience and build visibility in the optics and photonics community by advertising in SPIE Professional