Meet your new SPIE CEO

SPIE's new CEO Kent Rochford, formerly of NIST, stepped into his new role 1 June. We asked Rochford to discuss his views on SPIE and the world of optics and photonics.

11 June 2018

What excites you about optics and photonics?
SPIE CEO Kent RochfordI studied optics because I found it fascinating, but over time what's really excited me is that this field is so pervasive. It's used in so many technologies and industries that it seems to touch almost everything, and, as practitioners, we can work in almost any industry segment or technology sector. The underlying science provides a strong foundation for broader technical understanding. At NIST, I managed an extensive array of diverse technologies. I found that when I encountered something new, I could often draw an analogy from optics and photonics to get a foothold and help me learn.

How do you view the importance of professional organizations like SPIE for advancing science and the careers of members?
Science advances through the exchange of ideas and knowledge. SPIE provides a forum for that exchange through conferences, publications, education, and networking opportunities. This exchange also helps scientists and engineers stay current, get new ideas, and grow the expertise required to enhance their careers. Through organizations like SPIE, the advancement of members and the advancement of science goes hand-in-hand.

Your first presentation was at an SPIE conference. What do you remember about that experience?
I remember being terrified at the idea of giving a presentation. At the session, a talk before mine was cancelled, and the chair substituted a post-deadline paper with a very similar title, so I also worried that my talk would be redundant. Fortunately, I'd characterized a few other features, so I emphasized those aspects. After my talk, the other speaker kindly introduced himself and we had a great discussion.

Driving back to Tucson after the conference, we blew a head gasket in the desert outside of Yuma -- in the summer. For years, I mailed a can of Foster's lager to the mechanic at Christmas. But that's another story.

Do you have any advice for young researchers making their first presentation or attending their first conference?
That it's really not terrifying. You're joining a community that genuinely wants you to succeed. Take the opportunity to seek out people working in areas you're interested in. You'll find that if you have a sincere interest, people will be very generous with their expertise and time, and you can make lifelong connections. And, if carpooling, make sure your friend has coolant in the radiator.

What is your favorite topic of discussion at a networking event?
Discussions about what's coming next. It's always interesting to hear people from various backgrounds talk about where they think a technology or trend is headed, and why. Though learning that somebody you just met has a connection to a friend, colleague, or place you know is fun too.

After a long and distinguished career in government labs, what are you looking forward to the most about leading SPIE?
I'm eager to be immersed in optics and photonics again. I love the field, and I look forward to serving - and advocating for - this amazing community.

Which emerging technologies do you consider the most exciting or interesting at this time?
Quantum technologies are moving from the research stage into development and engineering, and will create entirely new industries and opportunities. Photonics technology will play a major role in this revolution.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will have growing impact. Photonics may play a smaller enabling role, but these tools are likely to enhance our ability to understand, design or operate components and systems, so we'll benefit from these advances.

And there are exciting prospects in synthetic biology, virtual reality, additive manufacturing, Internet-of-Things....The list is pretty long. It's a great time to be a technologist.

What books are currently on your bedside table?
The Three-Body Problem trilogy. And four half-read issues of The Economist. I can't keep up.

Is there anything in particular you'd like to communicate to SPIE members in general?
I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to contribute to the great organization that Eugene, the Board, the staff, and the volunteers and members have created and sustained. There's tremendous opportunity ahead of us, and I look forward to working with everybody on new initiatives to advance the Society and the exciting field we support.

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