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SPIE Professional January 2012, Bonus Content

Rebuilding Japan with photonic polymers

Photonic polymer fibers for repairing and rebuilding communication systems after 2011 earthquake and tsunami

By Kathy Sheehan

Image: Photonics for a better world: Human bandage

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 photonic technologies be used to create an equally resilient communications infrastructure in the event of another such disaster.

"Photonic polymers will strengthen that bandage," says Toshikuni Kaino, professor emeritus at Tohoku University in Sendai, visiting professor at Keio University, and an attendee at the first International Conference on Advanced Photonic Polymers (ICAPP) in December.

Chaired by Keio University's Yasuhiro Koike and Tokyo Institute of Technology's Seizo Miyata, the conference brought together international representatives from industry, government, and academia to collaboratively propose ways of contributing to the rebuilding of Japan with photonic polymers. Koike is the core scientist for the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) FIRST program, which supports innovative science and technology R&D.

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, forming a "human bandage" during or shortly after a disaster.

image: 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, especially during major catastrophes, he adds. Photonic polymers are easily installed and repaired and have 100 times the signal-processing speed of silicon photonics, he adds.

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 90 technical presentations at ICAPP 2011 were given on active and passive polymers and materials, nano-fibers, plasmonic OLEDs, sensors, single-photon devices, POF models, 3D optical interconnects using self-written waveguides, birefringence compensation, and related topics.

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, providing part of that human bandage.

Human bandage for Japan

In addition, live, secure networks could be established at nuclear power plants for control and security.

A Keio University research project 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.

Some 750 people in all attended the two-day conference in Yokohama and contributed to the lively discussions about the importance of photonic innovation as well as cooperation and collaboration across national borders during times of disasters.

Among the speakers were Koike; 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 (Sweden), 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 (USA), who made opening remarks.

image of Yasuhiro Koike with Katarina and Sune Svanberg at ICAPP

Yasuhiro Koike (above, left) shows Katarina and Sune Svanberg a representation of how two people in an office or home could interact 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.

Editor's Note: A version of this article will appear in print and online in the April 2012 issue of SPIE Professional. To receive a copy of the SPIE member magazine, become an SPIE member today.

Photonics for a Better World

Photonics for a Better WorldJoin 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.

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DOI: 10.1117/2.4201201.43

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