Photonics Future

As optics and photonics evolve, opportunities for SPIE and its members will continue to expand.
01 April 2007
Brian Culshaw
January this year saw record numbers in San Jose at Photonics West. This emphasizes both the growing presence of photonics in our technological world and its increasing international importance. Indeed, we found groups from Asia and Europe meeting in California to take advantage of their collective presence in San Jose.
We now see photonics as a separate line item in the next European Framework Programme, and numerous countries have produced optimistic reports for the future of the discipline. This optimism seems well founded. As we recognize the major issues which face our civilizations over the coming decades, we see an evident contribution which photonics will make to their mitigation and resolution. Energy, water, and disease remain highest on the list with cultural and economic stability close behind.
All our energy, with the debatable exception of nuclear, originated from the sun and arrived here as electromagnetic radiation?photons. Solar energy then lies firmly in photonics, and our discipline will inevitably be a pivotal contributor to the evolution of energy technology and policy. We shall no doubt also have a part to play in carbon trading, which according to the World Bank will rapidly approach $25B a year, with CO2 measurements and monitoring remaining an intractable issue. Here lies another natural niche for optics and photonics. Couple this to the increased demand on environmental monitoring, meteorological predictions, and surveillance, and the opportunities abound.
Assured water supplies are already the subject of heated international diplomacy. Water treatment and the possibility of water trading will require careful assessment and monitoring, and yet again in the role for remote monitoring as an input into a complex trading model naturally lies within the optical domain. Furthermore, water treatment and water quality monitoring already exploit photonic systems.
Photonics has also made its mark in biomedicine. As the Biomedical Optics Symposium portion of Photonics West sees several thousand attendees, this highlights our technology's contribution to biomedical research and instrumentation. The scope for, and indeed need for, ever more subtle imaging systems and precision diagnosis and treatment will continue to stimulate research, development, and critical application in the prevention, mediation, and treatment of disease.
Photonics has its role in the continuing development of our infrastructure. Fiber-optic communications are one of the many serendipitous technological breakthroughs which brought together the Internet and all its benefits. As the demand for bandwidth increases, so will the demand for photonics in the system. Less obvious, but equally critical, is the role of photonics within the mechanical and physical infrastructure as a critical monitoring and evaluation tool.
This brief exploration is far from exhaustive. Our Society will play a critical role in this photonics evolution through facilitating the transfer of information among the communities and providing the stimulus through which people can meet and share ideas and concepts.
For this to be effective, the need for a multidisciplinary philosophy is apparent, and it is here that SPIE has an enviable record of innovation and excellence. We intend that this will continue and expand in the future through the enthusiasm and commitment of the many volunteers and staff who organize meetings, contribute to journals, stimulate discourse, and excite our communities. I enthusiastically record a "thank you" to this small army of contributors.

Brian Culshaw presents Thomas J. Suleski, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, with his Fellows certificate at Photonics West in January. Twelve of this year's 56 new Fellows were recognized at the event. See the full list of the 2007 Fellows.

Brian Culshaw, 2007 SPIE President

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