SPIE at 60

SPIE President Toyohiko Yatagai reflects on SPIE 60th anniversary.

01 October 2015
Toyohiko Yatagai

While SPIE has had a major focus in 2015 on supporting the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL), I would be remiss in my role as SPIE president not to acknowledge that this is also the 60th anniversary of our Society.

The Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers was founded in 1955 out of a need to solve problems for the many engineers working on scientific cameras. These engineers needed to use high-speed photography to solve design issues, provide measurements, and create capabilities in industries such as aerospace and communications.

Sixty years ago, the world had not yet seen the first laser. Fiber optics were brand new. There were no artificial satellites circling the Earth. No humans had been in space, and solar cells were in the early stages of development as was the first video-recording machine.

Smartphones and e-readers? Science fiction had barely dreamed these up.

Although individual labs were devising solutions to various challenges with high-speed photography, engineers had no forum in which to share information.

Today, optics and photonics technologies and the people who work in the field have numerous venues where they can share information and continue to help solve problems in scientific measurement, medicine, space exploration, community security, and multiple other applications. SPIE members over the years have brought tangible social, environmental, health, and economic gains to humanity through inexpensive and efficient alternative energy and by helping people to see, hear, communicate, and live healthier lives.

Our name evolved into the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers and it was later abbreviated to SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, to recognize our global influence and the broad array of optics and photonics technologies that the Society represents.


A few facts about your Society:

  • The first president of the Society was Richard R. Councilman, an engineer at Hughes Aircraft.
  • The first formal meeting of the Society was attended by 74 people and held at a restaurant in Hollywood, CA, 8 August 1955.
  • SPIE held its first technical seminar-type conference in 1963 and published its first official proceedings (known as a “yellow book” for the color of its cover), on image enhancement.
  • The SPIE Digital Library now contains more than 435,000 proceedings, journal papers, and eBooks.
  • Membership in the Society has grown steadily, from 200 in 1957, to 1200 in 1969, to 10,000 in 1989, to more than 18,000 today.
  • SPIE truly serves an international constituency: Members hail from 93 countries, and SPIE Student Chapters are now present in 54 countries.
  • SPIE held its first meeting in Japan 45 years ago.

As we think about the history of our organization, we can also pause to reflect on other memorable anniversaries taking place in 2015. This year is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of James Clerk Maxwell’s original set of four equations, the 200th anniversary of Augustin-Jean Fresnel’s proposal of light as a wave, and what is believed to be the 1000th anniversary of Ibn al-Haytham’s Book of Optics, all of which are celebrated in the IYL.


graphic for SPIE at 60Looking to the next 60 years of the Society, we will continue to support the international optics and photonics industry and the talented researchers, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, politicians, educators, students, and others whose creativity and hard work have helped transform the world in which we live.

SPIE distributed more than $4 million in support of education and outreach programs last year. And in 2015, the Society is expected to spend a record $5.2 million on altruistic activities, including more than $1.3 million on the IYL and the US National Photonics Initiative.

We are fortunate to be in a position to support the community in this way.

The next time you make a phone call, surf the web, use your computer, take a digital picture, turn on an LED light, or look at an image of our planet from space, give thought to the talented scientists and engineers who brought this technology to fruition.

Take a moment to think about the optics and photonics technologies that enable flat-screen TVs, solar panels, mobile reading devices and a myriad of routine tasks we take for granted daily. You can be proud of your membership in SPIE and the contributions our community has made to society.

It’s been an amazing 60 years. I can only imagine what you will accomplish in the coming decades.

Toyohiko Yatagai
2015 SPIE President

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