Adventures of a Conference Chair

SPIE encourages younger members and students to get involved.

01 July 2015
Christopher C. Wilcox and Matthew E. L. Jungwirth

One of the core roles of SPIE, along with its vast history of publishing, is assisting its members in organizing, attending, and participating in its symposia.

SPIE also works very hard to incorporate involvement of its younger members and students. When SPIE Fellow David V. Wick asked me (Christopher) to replace him as chair of his session at SPIE DSS in 2012, I quickly took the opportunity to help and organized a session on adaptive optics and MEMS technology. At the time, I was an early career member with SPIE and had already published several articles in adaptive optics and atmospheric optics.

Wick, on the other hand, was a long time SPIE member who has served on numerous SPIE committees and the SPIE Board of Directors. Wick and I had worked together for several years at a joint Sandia National Laboratories/Naval Research Laboratory program in adaptive optics and lightweight adaptive mirrors and telescopes.

He has always been involved with SPIE, especially in reaching out to its younger members. I felt honored to be asked to take over the session he built.

After two years of running the session myself, I asked a colleague, Matthew Jungwirth, to cochair the session with me. We had worked together for several years under the same program while he was at Sandia National Labs working on his PhD dissertation project. I knew that Jungwirth, an early career SPIE member and now an optical scientist at Honeywell International, was interested in becoming more involved in SPIE, and he seized the opportunity to become a session co-chair.

Left to right: Former SPIE President Eustace Dereniak, Christopher Wilcox, Matthew Jungwirth, and SPIE Senior Director Andrew Brown at SPIE DSS in 2014.

Here are some of our observations on getting involved with a conference.


Being invited to chair a conference session by a more senior member like Wick is one of two ways that young SPIE members can become involved in conferences.

Wick ensured that a highly successful conference session would remain active by passing his duties over to us, and we decided not to let this opportunity pass. However, young SPIE members don’t have to wait for opportunity to come to them.

We encourage all SPIE members who are interested in playing a bigger role at conferences to create that opportunity themselves by engaging conference and session chairs. Introduce yourself to them, hand out your business card, and ask how you can help or aid the conference. We can assure you that help is always welcome.


Setting up a conference for an SPIE symposium can take a considerable amount of organization and planning. Within each conference, there are sessions that can contain several presentations. Many session chairs are open to having papers submitted for review.

Some sessions, such as ours, contain only invited presentations. In other words, only those authors who have been personally invited by us, the chairs, will present at the session. Therefore, our main job is creating an interesting and engaging session that is technically relevant and cohesive.

Typically, it can take nearly a year to set up a proper conference session — time that is spent deciding upon a session topic, inviting prospective authors, reading and approving abstracts and papers, and, lastly, moderating the session itself.

The result of our joint efforts was a session held 24 April at the 2015 SPIE DSS on novel beam-control applications and techniques at the Micro-Nanotechnology Sensors, Systems, and Applications conference. Here, the goal of our efforts was finally realized, enabling presentation to the scientific community of five scientists’ and engineers’ latest and greatest research.

Topics covered included a hybrid system of software and hardware processing, an adaptive optical system, ultraspectral imaging, lidar systems, and a novel deformable liquid lens to mimic the human eye.

All the presentations were engaging, incredibly interesting, and very successful.

–SPIE member Christopher Wilcox is an electrical engineer at the US Naval Research Lab in New Mexico. He has a PhD in engineering from University of New Mexico and has developed several Android apps, including the SPIE Field Guide and SPIE conferences apps.

–Matthew Jungwirth, also an SPIE member, is an optical scientist at Honeywell International. He has a PhD in optical sciences from University of Arizona.

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