World of Opportunity

Paul McManamon talks about his year ahead as President and some challenging and promising areas for SPIE.
01 January 2006
Rich Donnelly
Fellow of both SPIE and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Paul McManamon is the 2006 SPIE President and the chief scientist of the Sensors Directorate at AFRL (Dayton, OH).
He earned both his MS and PhD in physics from The Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) in 1973 and 1977, respectively. McManamon has served on several SPIE committees including the Finance Advisory, Education, and Symposia committees, as well as chair of the Scholarship and Awards committees. He is also a member of the IEEE and the Optical Society of America
He was interviewed by Rich Donnelly for SPIE Professional (SP).
SP: How did you first get interested in optics?
PM: Actually I started out in microwaves, and I just thought there was more interesting stuff to do a PhD dissertation in optics. So I gradually switched from electronic warfare and jamming to optics and lasers, because it looked like there were more dissertation topics there. I guess that's saying I thought it was more fruitful or more interesting. There are more things going on in optics. Of course now in my day job as chief scientist of the Sensors Directorate of the AFRL, I'm back in microwaves as well as optics and automatic target recognition.
SP: What are your thoughts as President as we come off the 50th anniversary of the organization?
PM: I think SPIE has a challenge to continue to expand as an international organization. We've got to maintain our preeminent position in the United States, where we are the premier sponsor of optical engineering symposia, while expanding significantly as the research expands in Asia and Europe. We're doing well in Europe, but we still have a ways to go. In Asia we're really just beginning, though we've been working hard at it.
SP: Are there some other things you see as important challenges?
PM: The information business is a significant challenge. Things are changing in the way people publish. The Internet has made major changes in everything. SPIE is in the information business. We do a lot, fortunately, with conferences and symposia where people get together, and then we publish the papers they present at the conferences. I think those will continue since people have a strong need to get together and to network.
At the same time, we have the challenge of trying to convert publications to digital. We're doing a good job of that, though we could always be more aggressive in that area. Some people are pushing open access, lobbying for all information on the web to be free. But somebody has to pay when you publish. There's a cost associated with publishing. Somebody has to pay to collect papers, referee papers, edit papers, and host the site. So there's a lot of challenges there, but at the same time I think there are lots of opportunities. I think SPIE is positioned well to innovate in the digital age.
SP: What are your priorities as president of SPIE?
PM: That's actually hard for me to say. A lot of people when they come in, they say they want to accomplish this one thing. I started thinking when I was elected to the presidential chain, what is it I want to occur on my watch? Fundamentally, I'd like to do a good job with the overall SPIE challenge. I'd like to continue our international focus, and I'd like to work on this information business. I'd also like to push to get young professionals more firmly involved in SPIE -- to push to include them in our committees and other activities, so there's a role for students and young professionals to stay active in SPIE.
I'd like to work with China, Japan, and Korea, in particular. I think those are areas that are very ripe for more SPIE involvement.
SP: What new or developing areas do you think offer the greatest opportunities, both for SPIE and for the optics industry in general?
PM: I think the biggest thing, where we're already doing an excellent job, is nanotechnology. We need to push and do more, though. There's also bio-optics, and defense is doing quite well right now. Those are what we call mega-topics. But of those, I think the biggest emerging technology is nano. We had over 900 papers at Optics and Photonics 2005. I'd like to see that go over 1000. I'd also like to see an SPIE journal in nanotechnology.
SP: What unique roles can the Society fill for individuals and for the industry as a whole?
PM: A lot of the time in industry, there's a pre-competitive phase for the technologies. In this phase, industry has common interests in moving the state of the art along. I think SPIE can be very strong in the pre-competitive phase for industry. I think the Society fits the bill as being the right technical society for anybody in optical sensors because it's application oriented, and all of our labs are application oriented.
Once you pass the pre-competitive phase you also need a place to let people know what you have accomplished. Now, someone in industry is probably not giving a paper explaining how they developed the product, but they are in the exhibit hall advertising the product. They are networking with customers in the exhibit hall and in the halls of the technical symposium.
SP: Do you have any advice for people who are just starting out in the field, whether they're students or new graduates?
PM: I think it's important to get involved, come to a number of the meetings, and to maybe get on some committees. The main thing SPIE is better at than most technical societies, is providing networking opportunities. The first time I went to AeroSense, which is now the Defense and Security Symposium, I was amazed. I couldn't walk 20 feet without running into another person who I wanted to talk to. I don't even know if I got to a talk on the first day, because every time I turned around I'd run into someone else and stop and get into a conversation. Those were all good, useful conversations. I think developing that network is extremely important for a young person.
That's part of the reason I want to emphasize the involvement of young professionals. I think we're doing an excellent job of helping student leaders to develop that network. But I'm concerned that they retreat into a back corner for the first five or 10 years of their career. That does them a disservice, and it does the Society a disservice. I'd like to see us help young engineers and scientists to know and interact with people across the industry.
SP: How have your career experiences helped prepare you for SPIE presidency?
PM: I've had to manage a lot of different activities for the Air Force. In many cases I've had to build groups of people across the laboratory, with DARPA, or with different groups across the Department of Defense. What is most important is the skill of working with diverse groups of people and working toward a consensus, so you get a very different set of people all trying to move in a common direction.
In SPIE you've got people from all over the world and from different technical disciplines, so there's always a ques-tion of having many different interests. I think of myself as being a team-builder, trying to get consensus and get people moving in a given direction. I think that will be the most valuable skill that I bring to SPIE.

Rich Donnelly, SPIE Newsroom Managing Editor

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