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SPIE Professional October 2009 (Expanded Online Article)

President's Letter

Conferences Generate Innovation

By María J. Yzuel, SPIE President

Maria Yzuel

This is my fourth and last letter to you in SPIE Professional

In the last few months, I have met with professors, researchers, and students to discuss cutting-edge fields of research, the optical technologies that they are developing, and their applications. I attended three conferences (SPIE Europe Optical Metrology, Education and Training in Optics and Photonics or ETOP, and SPIE Optics+Photonics) and have made several visits to important institutions in Europe.

The SPIE Europe Optical Metrology Conference in Munich was held 14-18 June and collocated with the World of Photonics Congress 2009. At the same time, SPIE organized with OSA the ECBO conference on Optics in Biology.

While there, I presented the SPIE Visionary Award to Prof. Dr. Lothar Späth, who has been crucial in developing optics in Jena, Germany, in the last two decades.

In July, I attended the ETOP conference in St. Asaph, Wales, UK. It was organized by OpTIC Technium (Opto-electronics Technology and Incubation Centre). This conference is held every two years and is sponsored by SPIE, ICO, OSA and IEEE-Photonics. I visited the facilities of OpTIC with some SPIE staff members while there. David D. Walker, director of OpTIC, guided our visit. We had very valuable discussions on the value of a center like this for developing optics industry in the region.

In August I attended SPIE Optics+Photonics in San Diego. As always it has been a great conference. We recognized the new SPIE Fellows, the award winners, and the students who received scholarships, and we acknowledged those who received SPIE Education Outreach grants.

During my stay in Munich I visited, with other SPIE leaders, the Max Planck Quantum Optics Institute in Garching where Professor Ferenc Krausz, director of the Institute, was our host and the Technical University of Munich (TUM), where Professor A. Koch, head of the Institute for Measurement Systems and Sensor Technology at TUM hosted our visit.

From Munich I went to Paris and visited the Ecole Polytechnique at Palaiseau, where Professor Henri-Jean Drouhin, Deputy Vice President for Research, was my host and the Institut d'Optique Graduate School at Palaiseau, Paris, where Dr. Pierre Chavel, head of the Laboratoire Fabry, hosted my visit.

Later, in London I met with Professor Paul French, head of the Photonics Group at the Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College, and Dr. Peter Doel of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at University College.

I would like to express my deep acknowledgment to my colleagues for their hospitality as well as for the very valuable discussions.

Size of Conferences Discussed

One topic of these conversations that I'd like to address here is the different models of scientific conferences in our field.

In addition to these recent discussions, I've also talked with colleagues over the years about the service that SPIE provides to the optics and photonics community with its conferences and exhibitions. I have received very positive comments and some complaints about the real value of big conferences with many tracks.

For instance, sometimes you cannot attend all the papers they would like because they are scheduled at the same time. Conversely, small conferences can be focused on such narrow topics that you meet only people working in your field.

SPIE Symposia Committee members are always looking for new ideas. The volunteers and SPIE staff work together to organize some small conferences such as Remote Sensing in Europe and in the Asia Pacific region, and SPIE cosponsors others such as ETOP. They work together to introduce new research fields and new technologies in the conferences.

Nevertheless, SPIE is better recognized by the community for its big conferences and exhibitions.

I have had a long discussion about this with John Pellegrino, chair of the SPIE Symposia Committee. He notes that it is inevitable that several activities of interest occur simultaneously at large events covering multiple research and technology areas.

"That is the nature and strength of scientists and engineers," he says. "We are interested and curious about how the world works in all of its different ways and have an endless supply of exciting ideas to pursue. These symposia enable us to concentrate in depth in some areas and hear about tantalizing new discoveries across many more-spurring new ideas and opening our minds to new ways to pursue them."

John notes that these symposia are carefully planned, with the hard work of volunteers and assistance from SPIE staff.

"The identification of new technical directions being pursued in the research and development community, areas of key topical interest and discussions, and invited presentations are all discussed and folded into a program which can attract leading researchers, developers, and component providers in their fields. Indeed, the average attendance of an SPIE event is so high precisely due to the hard work and contributions of each chair, presenter, exhibitor, staff member, and attendee."

John has collected a number of other observations from Symposia Committee members, conference attendees, and personal experience over the years. He writes:

"One of the most exciting and stimulating things about being part of a scientific community is the opportunity to listen, share, and engage with others in a variety of technically oriented forums. Whether one prefers the bustling energy of a large symposium, teeming with experts eager to share ideas and companies demonstrating the latest developments and offerings, or an intimate gathering where one can dive deep into the esoterics of an emerging topic, such gatherings exist to help people engage and further the goals of the community-the advancement of science and technology, education, and exploration of fundamental knowledge.

"The larger symposia provide a venue for highlighting multidisciplinary activities and the intersections of different aspects of traditional disciplines. Connections between biology, photonics, and electronics; photonics, energy, and the environment; or signal processing, neurology, image processing, and sensing, are examples of areas ripe for both study and development for the commercial market.

"The mix of attendees with such diverse expertise enables networking and idea generation," he says.

"In addition to the mixture of technical disciplines, one of the features of larger symposia is the bringing together of academics, industrial experts, and government researchers from across the international scientific and engineering community. The interactions of these groups of people have helped drive technology development to market, as seen in the significant connection between SPIE publications and patent applications.

"Industrial exhibitors also bring a valuable perspective, with their expertise in technology at the state of the art and suggestions for new ways to employ the latest research tools and applied systems. The technical presentations, invited presentations and perspectives, and exhibits combine to significantly enhance the value of the symposia to participants."

I think John has captured the essence of SPIE's conference and networking mission. Thanks, John, for sharing your valuable viewpoint. I could not have said it better.

I encourage you to help improve our service to the community with your input on future symposia.

Please write to me with your thoughts at governance@spie.org.

Student Leadership Workshop

Students at keynote luncheonSome 130 students from 89 SPIE chapters in 22 countries traveled to San Diego in August for a two-day leadership workshop at SPIE Optics+Photonics. The annual workshop is just one of the services that SPIE provides to encourage young people to employ optics and photonics to help solve the world's problems.

Many also presented papers at the technical conferences. For some of them, it was the first time that they presented a paper on their research in an international conference. The SPIE conferences have a great added value for students. Students have the opportunity to meet the experts and to discuss with them their research and the possibilities for the future of their career.

Experts from academia, industry, and government joined me in sharing insights and information about networking, project management, career choices, communication skills, and leadership with the attendees.

I told them: "You will find that the face-to-face connections you make at conferences are the ones that really make a difference in your life."

Well over 100 students also attended a keynote luncheon to hear SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs speak about opportunities in the field. "The last century was the century of electronics," Arthurs said, "but the 21st century belongs to photons."

DOI: 10.1117/2.4200910.01

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