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Stanford IONS Conference

By Aaswath Raman

Stanford IONS Conference 2011

Over 90 Ph.D. students from 15 countries met this October 13-15 at Stanford University for IONS NA-3. Organized by the Stanford Optical Society, a student chapter of SPIE & OSA, this conference was part of the recently established IONS conference series for students in optics and photonics. Previous IONS conferences have taken place all across the globe in Spain, Russia, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Australia, as well as twice previously in the US at the University of Maryland and the University of Arizona. IONS NA-3 was supported by a SPIE collaborative grant and received the planning support of the UC Berkeley chapter of SPIE & OSA.

The IONS conferences differ from most technical conferences in that they are student-centered and run events, with a strong emphasis on fostering connections between student researchers from around the world. By gathering a critical mass of future leaders in optics and photonics IONS helps graduate students build a valuable network and learn about the research their peers are doing around the world. At IONS NA-3, a combination of student talks and poster sessions provided student attendees opportunities to share their work in a supportive and interactive setting. Social and nightlife events further allowed attendees to interact with each other and form new friendships.

A substantial portion of the conference was devoted to helping Ph.D. students think about career opportunities both inside and outside of academia. Students had the opportunity to hear from a number of high-profile speakers, including Dr. Prith Banerjee, Senior Vice President of Research at HP and Director of HP Labs and Prof. Donna Strickland, Vice-President of the Optical Society and Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo, Canada.

Given Stanford's location in the heart of Silicon Valley, IONS NA-3 placed a special emphasis on entrepreneurship. The conference featured a stimulating workshop by serial entrepreneur and Stanford Management Science and Engineering lecturer Steve Blank, as well a presentation by Prof. Eli Yablonovitch, a U.C. Berkeley professor and founder of photovoltaics company Alta Devices. Additionally, we hosted a lively panel discussion on entrepreneurship featuring four Stanford alumni who have founded optics and photonics startups.

On Friday afternoon, conference participants chose between a number of excursions in the area. These included a tour of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s Linac Coherent Light Source, a tour of the Santa Clara headquarters and production facilities of laser manufacturer Coherent, Inc, and a special workshop at Stanford’s Institute of Design (d.school), entitled "Research as Design." Additionally, Prof. Anthony Johnson of University of Maryland, Baltimore County and former President of the Optical Society, presented a talk and led a dinner discussion about increasing the representation of minorities and women in optics and photonics.

IONS NA-3 closed on Saturday afternoon with a keynote speech by Prof. Sir John Pendry of Imperial College London on “Metamaterials and the Science of Invisibility.” This talk was open to the entire Stanford community, and drew over 150 attendees.

We are pleased to report that IONS NA-3 was a success and was well received by our diverse and international group of attendees. As IONS moves on to other universities and countries in the coming months and years, we on the IONS NA-3 Organizing Committee look forward to seeing you at a future IONS!