President's Letter

SPIE President Robert Lieberman discusses the international optics and photonics community.

01 July 2016

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, with more than 19,000 members and 304 SPIE Student Chapters in 54 different countries. The Society hosts and supports dozens of symposia, conferences, and other educational activities in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and the Americas, bringing together tens of thousands of researchers and technologists from around the world. We then disseminated much of this information in the form of journals, books, and conference proceedings.

These meetings are invaluable forums for the lifeblood of scientific inspiration: the face-to-face exchange of new information and ideas. Presentations and panel discussions in conference rooms provide valuable content, but it is the informal interactions between sessions, during coffee breaks, and at social receptions that are often the most productive, and give each meeting its special character.

The professional bonds formed at these meetings help establish connections between people across the entire field of light science and technology, building a spirit that enables them to achieve truly remarkable things.


Our community showed its unique spirit this spring in Belgium. SPIE Photonics Europe opened in Brussels on 3 April, less than two weeks after terrorist bombings killed or injured 335 people, sending that city into a state of shock and crippling its airport.

Immediately after the explosions, SPIE European and North American staff swung into action, contacting local SPIE members and Fellows to make sure that nobody in our community had been directly affected by this heinous crime. But then came a flood of questions: Was it still possible to get into Brussels? Was the city safe? Was the Convention Center undamaged? Was it even appropriate to hold a meeting so soon after this tragedy? Would people attend?

After the first three questions were answered affirmatively, the response to the fourth came almost immediately from Hugo Thienpont and Francis Berghmans, the local organizers of the meeting, and from the international community. Not only did people think it was appropriate to hold the conference, most viewed it as almost mandatory that we gather to show solidarity with the city of Brussels and to carry on with “business as usual.”

The final question was answered the very next week, when our courageous community “voted with its feet.” Despite the closed airport, an overwhelming majority of registrants attended SPIE Photonics Europe this year.

The welcome reception in the beautiful Royal Museum was packed with happy people, the halls were abuzz with technical discussions, and conference rooms were full. The spirit of photonics had made Photonics Europe 2016 a success.

SPIE President Robert Lieberman (center, back row) greeted SPIE student members from 15 countries on six continents who attended the SPIE Student Chapter Leadership Workshop in Brussels in April.

The strong bonds between people of all nations in our community show in less stressful times, too. For example, the International Year of Light (IYL) in 2015 was so successful that IYL-related activities are still being held, inspiring adults and children everywhere with the wonderful achievements and possibilities brought to life by optical scientists, engineers, and artists.

Scientists from many countries contribute time and energy to activities like UNESCO’s unique Active Learning in Optics and Photonics (ALOP) program (see article in this issue). Individual scientists collaborate in cutting-edge research with little regard for international boundaries, and virtually every academic research group in our field contains people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds.

This spring, looking out over the audience in Brussels, I was reminded that SPIE relies on, and exists to serve, people from all over the world. Truly, it is an honor to be a member of this international society for optics and photonics.

Robert A. Lieberman
2016 SPIE President

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