President's Letter

Robert Lieberman on the future of photonics.

01 October 2016
Robert Lieberman

SPIE is devoted to fostering the use of optics and photonics for the betterment of humankind. Many of SPIE’s 840 Fellows and 700 SPIE Senior Members have reached their distinguished status by developing light-based technologies that will change the world.

Recently, inductees to these SPIE recognition programs have been recognized with awards for their contributions to precision optical measurement, chemical detection, and advanced communications, to name just a few fields.

These coveted honors recognize work by scientists and engineers at the very pinnacle of our field. They include SPIE Fellow Ting-Chung Poon, whose contributions to novel digital holography and 3D imaging earned him the 2016 SPIE Dennis Gabor Award; SPIE Senior Member David Boas, whose work in neuroimaging was cited in his 2016 Britton Chance Biomedical Optics Award; and SPIE Fellow Paras Prasad, who was awarded the 2016 SPIE Gold Medal.

Over the years, Nobel Prizes have also honored many photonics-related breakthroughs that have changed our world. The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three scientists who unlocked the deepest mysteries of biological cells with optical microscopes, and the 2014 Prize in Physics was for the invention of blue LEDs. Nobel Prizes have also been awarded for fiber optics and the CCD sensor (2009); the optical frequency comb technique (2005); the quantum theory of optical coherence (also 2005); the electron microscope (1986); and for optical “clocks” to measure time with a precision that allows GPS systems to locate objects to within a few feet anywhere in the world (1989).

As SPIE President, it is a distinct pleasure to talk with outstanding contributors like these scientists and engineers and get a bird’s eye view of where our field is headed.


As exciting as it is to consider the ways in which these breakthroughs are making this the Century of Light, it is an even greater pleasure to look at the human future of our field. SPIE’s 7400 student members and 1000 early-career professionals represent a truly unique cross section of science and of society.

Working in disciplines as diverse as materials science and medicine, electrical engineering and education, physics and pharmacy, chemistry and computer science, civil engineering and science policy, or astronomy and agriculture, these bright young scientists and engineers are using light to reshape our world. Their energy and enthusiasm is clearly seen in the more than 300 SPIE Student Chapters that are located in 54 countries across the globe.

Visiting with students in a small sample of our SPIE Student Chapters reveals a lot. Their wide range of interests, and their even broader variety of backgrounds, are brought together by a shared interest in using their understanding of light to expand human knowledge and make the world a better place.

On every campus, local students join students from other countries in classrooms and laboratories. Men and women solve complex problems together, and innovative ideas are met with respect, regardless of the political, social, religious, or other views of the innovator. As students cluster around optical benches, instruments, and computer displays, differences melt away.

In the continuing excitement of science, the pride of being on a team that achieves world-record optical performance, the joy of being the first ones to see new phenomena, and the knowledge that your group has laid the groundwork for a new and useful product are what transcend everything else.

At SPIE meetings, this joy is even more evident: young people from around the world come to focus on understanding and using light, and they leave with a rich collection of new friends, new coworkers, and new ideas. It is truly amazing to see the energy of such an international and interdisciplinary crowd.

In the hands of this diverse, multi-talented group of researchers and technologists, the future of optics and photonics is certainly bright!

Robert A. Lieberman
2016 SPIE President

Students spread the wonders of optics

Members of SPIE Student Chapters across the world find time amidst their studies and research to increase awareness about the importance of optics and photonics through outreach activities.

SPIE student member Arefeh Sherafati explains how easy it is to build a microscope with two lenses and LEGO blocks.

Nineteen of these chapters participated in the 2016 Optics Outreach Games, a friendly competition and showcase at SPIE Optics + Photonics in August of the best outreach efforts.

The SPIE Student Chapter at Washington University in St. Louis (USA) won the first-place prize with a fun activity that turns a lens equation into a microscope built from LEGO blocks.

The second-place prize went to the students at Montana State University (USA) for their demonstration of “How do 3D movies work,” and the third-place prize was awarded to students at Texas A&M University (USA) for “Turmeric Trials: household fluorescence to describe biomedical sensing.”

The People’s Choice award went to the SPIE Student Chapter at Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica (Mexico) for “Mirror, mirror on the wall.”

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