President's Letter

SPIE President Robert Lieberman on the gap between basic photonics research and commercialization.

01 April 2016
Robert A. Lieberman

The work of 60,000 annual contributors to SPIE events, journals, and other activities covers electromagnetic wavelengths from millimeters to Angstroms, and our professional undertakings cover a similarly broad spectrum. There is no better illustration of this than the wide variety of activities at SPIE meetings.

First-time presenters and plenary speakers, authors and journal editors, session chairs and symposium chairs, members of all grades, and trade show exhibitors engage in every aspect of optics and photonics at these meetings.

This broad range covered by the optics and photonics profession and our Society becomes most obvious at SPIE Photonics West where there were more than 22,000 registrations, a record. Representatives from industry, government, universities, and even high schools came to San Francisco to bridge the barriers between scientific disciplines, between basic research and applied engineering, and between invention and commercialization.


Conference rooms brimmed with medical doctors, biochemists, biophysicists, physical chemists, materials scientists, device design engineers, solid-state physicists, and multidisciplinary scientists who mine the fertile interstices between traditional fields of study.

Papers on fundamental breakthroughs in laser science, optoelectronics, and biophotonics shared screens with translational research on medical diagnostics and other technologies, and with reports on the performance of prototype devices and systems of all kinds. The SPIE Startup Challenge, workshops on product development and funding strategies, forums on government trade regulations, and presentation of the world-recognized Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation spanned the continuum of photonics business development activities.

photo of Lieberman at BiOS 2016Networking events and committee meetings brought together a full spectrum of important groups, ranging from SPIE Women in Optics, photonics industry clusters, and student leaders to those interested in public policy, publishing, and photonics for the developing world. And of course, the Photonics West exhibition and BiOS Expo were filled with hundreds and hundreds of light-related companies of all types and sizes, from around the world.


Throughout the year, SPIE contributors engage in the full spectrum of activities evident at Photonics West. Whether in San Diego, San Francisco, Baltimore, Brussels or Beijing, the energy of people working to advance our field is unflagging. New discoveries, new applications, new products, and even new companies are generated by the very human interactions between people who get together to discuss their results and learn from others.

Ongoing collaborations coordinated by the SPIE professional staff in the USA and UK provide opportunities for people at all levels, and from any continent, to support these activities even when it is inconvenient to attend every relevant meeting.

Because we deal with the optical spectrum every day, it is easy for people in our field to bridge “gaps” that others sometimes stumble over. Here are two examples: Where some might see no relationship between telecommunications and surgery, we clearly see that lasers (different types, working at different wavelengths, but still lasers) have revolutionized both fields.

Similarly, the current worldwide trend to more closely tie scientific research to activities that will directly benefit humanity and promote socioeconomic welfare is a bit unsettling to some scientists, but it’s “old news” to most of us.

We know from working with light that there is no real gap between basic research and product development: These activities are just two ends of a fascinating continuum!

Robert A. Lieberman
2016 SPIE President

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