President's Letter

SPIE President writes about the value of published scientific research.

01 April 2014
H. Philip Stahl

I believe that personal success depends less on one’s intellect and more on one’s ability to communicate one’s knowledge and collaborate with others. If you know me, it is probably because you read something I wrote or heard a presentation I gave.

The odds are that it was an SPIE proceedings paper or presentation.

SPIE was in large part founded to meet the need of practicing engineers and application researchers to collect transient knowledge and practice and archive it for future use.

The history of my professional career is contained in more than 150 proceedings papers, fewer than a dozen journal papers, and several trade-journal articles. I proudly cherish each one.

While the trade-journal articles provided me with the most recognition, the conference proceedings papers have been the most valuable for my career. They served as a “forcing function” to help me formulate, organize, and consolidate my thoughts, and they allowed me to explain something I had learned or a problem I had solved.

It has only been in the last 10 to 15 years that I have taken the extra step of expanding my proceedings papers into journal papers. As someone who has reviewed papers and had papers peer reviewed, I can testify that there is no better form of peer review than presenting a paper in front of 100 of your colleagues and competitors.

Documenting optics and photonics research

As a manager, I have found proceedings papers to be a great tool for documenting work at a level of detail beyond that of PowerPoint charts. The opportunity for my engineers to attend a conference to share their work provides me with the only motivational tool needed to get the paper written. Also, after spending millions of taxpayer dollars to create new knowledge, sending an engineer to a conference is a small cost to capture and make permanent that knowledge gain.

But I have a confession. Once I gave a presentation that people cited as having articulated a “rule” that one cannot successfully scale up an existing mirror technology by more than three times.

Well, I was busy and I did not complete the proceedings paper. As a result, that work is lost to history and I have no way to cite my “rule.”

Early in my professional career, I presented my work at meetings for which there were no written proceedings. As a result, all of my ammonia-crystal-scattering master’s research is lost to history as well as much of my early optical testing/metrology work, including a cellular, autonomous, phase-unwrapping algorithm.

Connecting with photonics' technical communities

One of the joys of being SPIE President is connecting with our technical communities.

In December 2013, I visited with the Australian nano- and micro-optics community in Melbourne and helped celebrate the Australian Optical Society’s 30th Anniversary in Perth.

The best part about these visits is the opportunity to recognize the excellence of our members. In Australia, I presented the SPIE best student paper award to SPIE member Kelsey Kennedy, below.

photo from Australia award presentation

In February, I attended Photonics West, the largest laser and photonics event in North America and the largest event for our bio-optics community. I welcomed industry leaders at the annual Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation banquet and presented the SPIE Startup Challenge awards, sponsored by SPIE corporate member Jenoptik.

Also, it was my pleasure, on behalf of all SPIE members, to present a check to the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences to establish an SPIE-endowed Graduate Student Scholarship in Optical Science. (See separate article on this scholarship.)

Moreover, it was my privilege to recognize our newest Senior and Fellow members. These members are recognized by their peers not only for their exceptional professional achievement, contributions to the optics community, and service to SPIE, but also for their future contributions.

In March, I helped celebrate the Optical Society of India’s 50th anniversary.

And in October, I plan to join my other alumni in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the University of Arizona’s College of Optical Sciences.

I look forward to connecting with the defense community in Baltimore and the astronomy community in Montreal later this year.

H. Philip Stahl
2014 SPIE President

Logo for IYL2015International Year of Light

How will you celebrate the International Year of Light (IYL) in 2015?

We all know that light is fundamental in human activities and that optics and photonics are essential for the future development of our society.

The UN’s declaration of the IYL is an important opportunity for us to communicate the importance of light and light-based technologies to both the public and to policy makers.

The IYL will celebrate the role of light from photoemission to photosynthesis, from art to architecture, from physics to philosophy.

SPIE, a founding sponsor of the IYL, needs you to make light more visible and, more importantly, appreciated. What will you do to help with this important celebration? How can you participate?

Go to to get involved.

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