Hugo Thienpont: The 2021 SPIE Gold Medal
Hugo Thienpont, a professor with the Faculty of Engineering at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), was one of the first researchers in Europe — in 1980s Flanders — to recognize the potential impact of the science and technology of light. As such, he was one of the first to actively promote photonics as both a new research and engineering discipline and a key enabling technology. That pioneering vision for photonics has had a tangible impact on education, research, innovations, and societal well-being in Europe and beyond, while many of his scientific results — in areas such as optical in computing; micro-lasers; organic materials for nonlinear optics; optical fiber sensors; optical lab-on-chips and organ-on-chips; and freeform optics — are utilized across industry via medical endoscopes, augmented and virtual-reality goggles, head-up displays, microscopy, space telescopes, and micro-satellites.
His accomplishments include the creation of the Brussels Photonics (VUB B-PHOT) research team; pioneering and implementing a photonics-engineering curriculum in Europe; creating Photonics4Life, the Network of Excellence in Biophotonics, and the pan-European research-and-innovation-focused Network of Excellence on Micro-Optics (NEMO); creating and developing Photonics 21; and co-founding UNESCO's International Year of Light (IYL) and International Day of Light (IDL). Since 1994, Thienpont has been a member of multiple committees at SPIE, and he had an active hand in creating the earliest iterations of SPIE Photonics Europe. An SPIE Fellow Member since 2006, he was the recipient of 2005 SPIE President's Award and serves as an advisor to SPIE student chapter at VUB.
"By any measure, Professor Thienpont is one of the world's most distinguished scientists," says John Dudley, a professor of physics at the Université Bourgogne-Franche Comté who worked with Thienpont on the UNESCO IYL and IDL programs. "For more than three decades he has been one of the international leaders in the field of integrated optics, pioneering research in areas as diverse as micro-optics fabrication technology, silicon optical interconnects, and fundamental physics of semiconductor lasers. He has developed and pioneered world-leading infrastructures and collaborative initiatives; he has supported the creation of new companies and start-ups; and he has worked in science communication and outreach from grassroots to policy. His all-encompassing commitment has generated a coordinated photonics community within Europe, as well as cementing the place of SPIE at the center of European photonics while his own research has always placed the needs of society at its heart, attested to by the very structure of his research institute at VUB and its links to local and regional societal needs."