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SPIE Professional October 2010

Visibility of Photonics

The SPIE leadership works to raise awareness about the benefits of R&D in photonics for improving quality of life.

By Ralph James, 2010 SPIE President

Ralph James, 2010 SPIE President

We practitioners in photonics are well aware that light does far more than illuminate dark spaces.

Light-based technologies save lives, power computers, enable mobile telephone and internet communications, enhance personal and national security, provide sustainable and cheaper energy sources, add more dimension--literally--and value to entertainment, and more.

Also important is the significant economic impact of photonics, with photonics R&D creating many highly skilled jobs.

However, photonics as a field suffers an identity problem in some important areas of the world, with a resulting lack of awareness of the field's potential to solve problems and its worthiness of funding and other support.

The leadership of SPIE is working to address this problem straight on.

One way is through providing resources for policy makers and the public on the scope, contributions, and capability of the industry.

Armed with clear ideas of what "photonics" means and its ability to improve the economy and our quality of life, elected and appointed officials who are tasked with making decisions about economic policy can make better-informed decisions.

Students looking for educational choices that will enable them to make a positive difference in the world as well as make their way in life will be better aware of the range of jobs in photonics, and the job satisfaction they may expect to find.

In the European Union, industry-driven Photonics21 has helped raise awareness and support for the field through publications including a 2007 report on "Photonics in Europe: Economic Impact," and this year's "Lighting the Way Ahead: Second Strategic Research Agenda in Photonics."

SPIE leadership, participating as members of Photonics21, has contributed to this effort and presents updates and other background to EU commissions looking at particular issues. See photonics21.org.

Gross domestic expenditures on R&D as a percentage of GDP for a select group of countries.

Source: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Harnessing light

In the United States, SPIE leadership participated on the committee that developed the 1998 report on "Harnessing Light: Optical Science and Engineering for the 21st Century," issued by the National Research Council.

This year, SPIE is part of a coalition spearheading an update of "Harnessing Light," to refresh and reinforce the store of available information on photonics. Some funding has already been provided by the NSF and DARPA, and SPIE will invite contributions from throughout academia, industry, research institutes, and the associations serving photonics. We can all do our part.

What opportunities do you have to share information about the important contributions of photonics R&D?

How can you use your own experience to increase understanding among your community about what photonics provides at home and in the world?

I encourage you to join SPIE in working to bring recognition to the benefits that photonics provides. Write to us at governance@spie.org.

SPIE funding for optics outreach

SPIE Education Outreach grants provide funds for projects that increase awareness about the importance of optics and photonics. Thirty-two non-profit organizations from around the world received SPIE grants this year, including the 13 below whose applications were approved in the second round of funding for 2010.

In 2009, SPIE provided $2 million for scholarships, grants, and other activities supporting research and education in optics and photonics.

For more information or to apply for a future grant, go to spie.org/outreach. Application deadlines for 2011 grants are 31 January and 31 May.

  • Alpha Eta Mu Beta, Biomedical Engineering Honor Society (USA)
  • Fruitvale High School (USA)
  • Kimball Union Academy (USA)
  • Mindanao State University-MSAT (Philippines)
  • Montana Space Grant Consortium (USA)
  • Optics Institute of Southern California (USA)
  • OSA Rochester Section (USA)
  • Palouse Discovery Science Center (USA)
  • Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (USA)
  • Riverside County Office of Education (USA)
  • Saratov State University (Russia)
  • Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (Ukraine)
  • University of California, Santa Barbara (USA)

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

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201010.01

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