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SPIE Professional October 2008

Fragments to Ideas

The interdisciplinary approach in optics and photonics can seem fragmented at times. But it creates fruitful ground for innovation.

By Kevin Harding

I mentioned in my last letter some of my experiences talking to the many industries involved with optics and photonics around the world. The list of these companies is quite impressive, ranging from large aerospace companies such as Lockheed, Ball, Raytheon, and General Dynamics to what one might think of as more consumer type enterprises such as Intel, Samsung, Leica, and Philips.

There is also now a growing number of strong, smaller companies working in optical interconnects, biomedical diagnostics, industrial automation, and other areas.

A challenge for all these companies is getting good people. This is an area where SPIE is helping with new programs to promote industry interactions with students and early career professionals.

There is another related theme I have heard—not from the corporations—but the individuals within many of these companies, such as engineers at key optics suppliers like Qioptic and II-VI Inc.

"This industry is fragmented," commented one engineering manager. One day the customer is a large aerospace project, the next day a biologist at a hospital lab, the next an automotive engineer. It is true, as we see in the diversity of topics at SPIE conferences, our industry is about optics and lasers, but also about many other fields such as computers, nanotechnology, solar energy, display technology, security systems, medical instrumentation, and entertainment.

Enabling Technology

I often hear it said that optics is an "enabling technology," enabling everything from high-density computer storage to observations of the universe, from detecting viruses to measuring the movement of tectonic plates. This is just the type of cross-disciplinary thinking that makes this field so exciting today.

We play a support role for many other disciplines—and a very critical one. The wide range of new tools and ideas afforded by optics and photonics is staggering. Whether it's the cell phones we carry or the latest tools to detect cancer, optics and photonics are integral to our everyday lives.

I am proud to be a member of that support team, and proud to be associated with a Society that has so well recognized the importance of the diversity of our industry in our events, programs, and participation. We have medical doctors, materials scientists, semiconductor engineers, and computer scientists who participate with SPIE in governance of the Society, organizing the conferences, and many other functions. These people meet at SPIE events to learn, share, and communicate with our wide family of experts, suppliers, and upcoming talent.

Career Choices

There are few other areas where a person, whether a novice or a seasoned veteran, can contribute to so many exciting new developments, such as flat screen TVs and space exploration, and can have so many different career opportunities.

As many have said to me in my travels for SPIE, one of the great things about an SPIE meeting is getting together with other people working in new areas from all over the world.

So if you are just starting out or have been around for a while but have not been to one of our SPIE meetings lately, come and join us to see for yourself what this field is all about.

I look forward to sharing this experience with you at one of more than two dozen events we host every year.

Kevin Harding

2008 SPIE President

Optics Has "Right Stuff"

"The subject in which we are working—the study of light—has already been given 14 Nobel Prizes, including mine," NASA's John Mather has said. "We are thus in the right field of science."

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

DOI: 10.1117/2.4200810.01

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