24 July 2015

‘People’s Choice’ highlights: Light in communication


Nearly all communication depends on optics and optical technology. Thanks to optical fibers, which are thin flexible fiber made of silica or plastic, we can transmit texts, media, and the internet through light signals over long distances. The internet allows people around the world to feel connected in a way that has never before been possible. Whether originating from mobile phones or modems, almost 100 percent of all telecommunications land on an optical fiber network.

In the photo above, Ebrahim Elmoly illustrates how humans rely on telecommunications to capture historic moments like the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. During the Arab Spring riots and demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria lead to the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and dissolution of the parliament. The word  “لحرية” on flag means "freedoms" in Arabic.

Elmoly is is one of 32 contestants for the People’s Choice Award competition in the SPIE International Year of Light Photo Contest. Judges have already chosen three winners, but now it's your turn to choose one more. SPIE is providing a prize of US $500 to the People's Choice winner. Online voting continues through 15 August.

This blog post features entries illustrating light in communication, including Elmoly’s, above, and two others, below.

Born in Alexandria, Elmoly is a freelance photographer and studying at the Faculty of Commerce, Cairo University. While working for NGOs, Elmoly focuses on social, and cultural issues and has won two golden medals from National Geographic Egypt.

For more information about the photographer, see Elmoly’s portfolio.

As mobile devices proliferate, stored data increases and computers of all types add more capabilities, the world is seeing a dramatic growth in the amount of energy needed for data processing. Among those working on solutions is Volker Sorger at George Washington University. He described his work in a recent video interview with the SPIE Newsroom.

Another researcher, Vurii Vlasov of IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, described in a plenary talk at SPIE Photonics West in February how the technology to carry communications into the future is moving from fundamental science to manufacturable technology.

While much of the world's communication occurs over fiber-optic networks, information can even travel through space. A team from the German Aerospace Center and ViaLight Communications GmbH,  Florian Moll, Christian Fuchs, and Joachim Horwath, reported in the SPIE Newsroom last month about the successful transfer of large data sets across a laser link between a jet and a ground station.

This week, the industry marked an important milestone toward next-generation communication on the announcement of a $110 million funding award in the USA for a consortium to establish a new Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI) in New York State. The IP-IMI is intended to advance the state of the art in the design, manufacture, testing, assembly, and packaging of complex photonic integrated circuits that combine a variety of photonic and electronic components to achieve functionality.

Other People’s Choice finalists who depicted light in communication in their photography are:
"Light-based Technology," by Romado Javillonar, Marikina City, Philippines, 22 June 2013. The internet allows us to communicate with our loved. Light-based technology has impacted the entire world intellectually, morally, and emotionally. 
"The Reflection of Light in Life," by Jiraporn Saenjae, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. Saenjae captured this photo near the restaurant A Cup of Love in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, 21 September 2014.

10 July 2015

‘People’s Choice’ highlights: Light therapy


Light is critical to our circadian rhythms, the physiological cycles based on patterns of light and dark that repeat every 24 hours. Darkness during the evening helps signal to our bodies to produce melatonin and fall asleep. Morning light stimulates our neural signals for the brain to wake up.

Disturbing this internal clock can affect our performance and health. Light systems, timing light exposure with the circadian clock, can increase sleep efficiency, alertness, and well-being. Scientific findings have shown light can also reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease.

In the above photo, SPIE Member Jean-Luc Dorier demonstrates how light therapy glass can help reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Dorier is a research engineer at SICPA and formerly a research and development scientist at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Dorier is one of 32 contestants for the People’s Choice Award competition in the SPIE International Year of Light Photo Contest. Judges have already chosen three winners, but now it's your turn to choose. SPIE is providing a prize of US $500 to the People's Choice winner. Online voting continues through 15 August.

For more information about light therapy, see:

Other People’s Choice finalists who demonstrated light in health:

"Medical Operating," by David Martin Huamani Bedoya, Dos De Mayo Hospital, Lima, Peru, 30 January 2014. The handling of surgical tools requires the utmost sensitivity. Surgeons need the best LED lighting when they are operating. Above, Bedoya displays surgeons operating on a heart under LEDs. See Huamani Bedoya’s portfolio.
"The Good Light," by Gabriele Orlini, health center in the Ntita Village, Katanga, Democratic Republic of Congo, 5 June 2012. Orlini’s photo is a part of his photo series covering a project called 9 Moons (mAma), which focuses on the side effects of sexually assaulted women who are unwanted by their tribal societies. See Orlini’s portfolio.

See more contestants' photos in previous posts in this series:

30 June 2015

Concluding Biophotonics ’15: just the right amount

Guest blog from Ven: Jacqueline Andreozzi, a PhD candidate at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, blogged on her experience at the Biophotonics Graduate Summer School on the island of Ven, off the southern coast of Sweden, 6-13 June. SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and COST, the European Cooperation in Science and Technology, are among sponsors of the school. Also supporting the school are DTU Fotonik, Technical University of Denmark; Lund Laser Centre; NKT Photonics A/S; Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, through its Nobel Institute for Physics; and Thorlabs.

Reflecting back on the Biophotonics ’15 Graduate Summer School, one word, new to my vocabulary, comes to mind: “lagom.” The Swedish expression, as I was informed by fellow student Johan Borglin on the first day while touring Lund University, translates roughly to the concept of “just the right amount.”

Indeed, the school provided lagom in every aspect of the week, from the scholarship, to the recreation, to the people present and the food prepared for us; everything seemed just right.

The school founders, Stefan Andersson-Engels (Lund University) and Peter Andersen (Technical University of Denmark), achieved a balance in programming which made it one of the most profitable weeks of my academic career in regard to both learning new material and networking with my peers.

Unquestionably, the lecturers chosen for the school were indeed leading experts in their respective subfields. Over the final three days, students had the privilege to hear lectures from Katarina Svanberg (Lund University), Kishan Dholakia (University of Saint Andrews), Wolfgang Drexler (Medical University of Vienna), Sune Svanberg (Lund University), Eric Potma (University of California, Irvine), Bruce Tromberg (University of California, Irvine), and Paul French (Imperial College London).

One of the exceptional aspects of the summer school was the opportunity to chat with these experts outside of the lecture halls: at meals, during our breaks, or even over a small glass of whiskey after the night concluded (The Spirit of Hven whiskey bar and distillery is internationally renowned). Unlike the sometimes chaotic atmosphere of a densely populated conference, the school provided an intimate setting for intellectual interaction from which, as was often joked, there was “no escape unless you’re a very strong swimmer.”

While all the teachers were charismatic and engaging, one of the highlights for me personally was the lecture by Dr. Katarina Svanberg on Wednesday morning, where she conveyed her clinical experience in cancer treatment. Asserting that “we have responsibilities as scientists to be strategic in our research,” her talk imparted compelling perspective to both the humanitarian potential of our work, as well as the scope of health issues that impact people around the world. She is a truly inspiring individual, with a kind heart, sharp wit, and admirable outlook regarding her fellow citizens of this world.

After Dr. K. Svanberg’s morning lecture block, students had the afternoon free to explore the island and connect with peers. Despite the absolutely beautiful weather tempting bike rides to the beach, most students elected to put the final touches on their entrepreneurial pitch presentations. Each “company” was formed from random assignment of sleeping cabins, and had less than three days to develop a marketable product or idea based on the skills and talents of the six to eight students in the allocated group.

As further incentive to participate, Eric Swanson (Acacia Communications, Inc.) offered his enterprise acumen as a resource to any team wishing to continue on to the SPIE Startup Challenge held at Photonics West (any interested individuals should contact Dirk Fabian, SPIE Startup Challenge Coordinator).

With 30 minutes until the start of the competition, company Unitissue makes final preparations.

Dr. Swanson and Dr. Andersen led the evaluation panel as each of the eight newly-formed companies had seven minutes to pitch their ideas, followed by an additional seven-minute question-and-answer period. Enterprises such as Unitissue, Sun Watch, and eyeSafe took the stage in front of their peers to convince the “venture capitalists” (i.e., our resident expert lecturers) to invest in their proposals. With nearly unanimous participation from the students, the competition was very well received, and I hope it becomes a new tradition incorporated in future iterations of the summer school.

Eric Swanson (right) questioning entrepreneurs Abel Swaan and Anat Vivante.

The school wrapped up Friday night with a lovely gala reception. Since “life is a competition,” as Dr. K. Svanberg was quick to point out, only a few individuals had the honor of being independently recognized, despite the widespread talent undoubtedly present. Five students (names to be posted on the Biophotonics ’15 website) out of 58 were recognized for their work during the poster presentations conducted earlier in the week. In addition, student company Cardiac Fast Check took home the highly coveted entrepreneurship prize.

Further inspired by Dr. K. Svanberg’s words, several students took it upon themselves to initiate an impromptu ballot for the premier lecturer. This honor (along with a small gift of appreciation) was bestowed on Dr. Dholakia, for his exceptional, animated manner of explaining the complex intricacies of manipulating matter using light, which quite evidently resonated well with the students.

Sune Svanberg making a closing statement at the Friday night gala dinner.

Sitting down to dinner on Friday night was a surreal experience -- one of those instances where it felt like the school had just begun, but at the same time like we had always been there, talking over our group meals on topics ranging from optical coherence tomography to the Swedish infatuation with caviar. That strange dichotomy persists now, less than a week later, as I reflect back on the many amazing, accomplished, and driven people with whom I had the opportunity to interact, and reinforces my conviction that all aspects of the experience were, for me and I expect many others, lagom.

29 June 2015

‘People’s Choice’ highlights: Astronomy and the night sky


Humans have been improving photography since Aristotle’s first observation of a pinhole camera in 350 BC, with milestones such as the introduction of the Lumière brothers' panchromatic plate in 1894 and Willard Boyle and George Smith’s invention of the charge-coupled device (CCD) in 1969.

Today, improvements to digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, which combine optics with digital imaging sensors, have introduced astrophotography to the wider public. Since its establishment in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has used astrophotography to render inspiring images of planets, stars, and solar systems.

In the photo above, Alexander Stepanenko has used astrophotography techniques to capture the aurora borealis -- the northern lights. The fascinating phenomenon is caused by the collision of solar wind and magnetospheric-charged particles in high-altitude atmosphere.

Using a DSLR camera (Nikon D-800), Stepanenko captured the photons and thermal noise of the northern lights. Wilderness areas, far from the light pollution of cities, are ideal places to photograph the night sky. Stepanenko captured this image from Guba Opasova, an isolated inlet on the Barents Sea, near Murmansk, Russia.

Stepanenko is one of 32 contestants in the People’s Choice Award competition in the SPIE International Year of Light Photo Contest. Judges have already chosen three overall winners, but now it's your turn to choose. SPIE is providing a prize of US $500 to the People's Choice winner. Online voting continues through 15 August.

Stepanenko has been documenting Russian villages for the past 28 years. After serving in the Soviet Army, Stepanenko started his career as a photojournalist, studying journalism at Moscow University in 1985. From the early 2000s Stepanenko’s work has been published in magazines and photo collections in Russia, Sweden, France, and Belgium.

For more information about Stepanenko's work, see Stepanenko’s website.

Other People’s Choice finalists who demonstrated astronomy or the night sky in their photography are:
“Natural Light and Artificial Light,” by Di Chang, at Empire State Building, New York, USA, 29 December 2013. Inspired by the sheer amount of light humans use, Chang’s photo demonstrates light pollution in New York City.
“Night Over Bardenas,” by Inigo Cia, Bardenas Desert, Spain, 18 August 2014. Cia’s image shows how the long exposure of a camera can reveal the light in a dark sky. See Cia’s portfolio.
“Fuerteventura Milky Way,” by Federico Giussani, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain, 8 August 2013. As a self-taught photographer fond of astrophotography, Giussani has contributed to several exhibitions, publications, and festivals in Italy. See Giussani’s blog



Shane Adaptive Optics (AO) Laser Guide Star/ShARCS, by Laurie Hatch (USA), taken at the Lick Observatory, Mt. Hamilton, California, USA, 10 September 2014. The Lick Observatory carries out high profile programs discovering exploding starts in the nearby universe and planets orbiting other stars. Adaptive optics is now considered almost indispensable for imaging distant objects.



Observing the Sky, by Anze Osterman (Slovenia), Soca Valley, Slovenia, taken 29 August 2014. Photographers need light to make an image. Astrophotography requires long exposures, a cable release, and a rigid tripod. 


Milky Way in Life, by Jadsada Saetiew (Thailand), taken in Phayao, Thailand, 16 June 2014. Like Osterman's photo, the human on the ground is shining a flashlight on an already illuminated night sky.


Rocky Planet of Night Lights, by Tunç Tezel (Turkey), taken in Uludağ National Park, near Bursa, Turkey, with a fisheye lens 4 July 2013. Tezel's photo was taken from an elevation of 2539 meters and shows the lights of several towns and villages and the Milky Way.


See more contestants' photos in previous posts in this series:

19 June 2015

Goal-line technology gets a workout at FIFA Women's World Cup



Seven cameras track the ball from every angle. (FIFA image)


The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, currently underway in Canada, is drawing record television audiences around the world. It’s also another milestone for goal-line technology (GLT), which is quickly gaining acceptance.

In the group stage, which ended on 17 June, FIFA reports that GLT was used to award goals by Mexico in a 1-1 draw with Colombia, by Thailand in a 3-2 win over Ivory Coast, and by Costa Rica in a 2-2 draw with Korea. Also, it confirmed a save (no goal) on a header by Meghan Klingenberg in the USA-Sweden game, a scoreless draw.

The Hawk-Eye GLT system consists of seven cameras positioned strategically at each end of the stadium, to track the ball precisely from every angle. Within one second of a play at the goal line, a signal is relayed to the referee’s watch to confirm the goal. It is reputed to be accurate within 1 mm. Hawk-Eye was selected for this year's tournament in March.

Last year’s men’s World Cup in Brazil was the first to use GLT – with a different system, GoalControl, which uses a similar seven-camera setup. France was the first to benefit from it, when an inconclusive goal was confirmed in a match against Honduras. Hawk-Eye had competed for last year's men's World Cup, but lost out to GoalControl.

SPIE Newsroom explored goal-line technology in 2012 when the technology was being considered by FIFA's rule-making body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

15 June 2015

‘People’s Choice’ highlights: Go solar!


Optical technologies and the people who work with them have brought tangible social, environmental, health, and economic gains to humanity. A prime example is the solar cooker, designed for sunny and dry climates. Varieties of these have provided thousands of people with alternative sources for cooking fuel. The top five countries with ideal solar cooking climates are India, China, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.

In the photo above, SandipanMukherjee demonstrates the popular use of solar cookers in a remote village in Nubra Valley, India. Off the national power grid, Nubra Valley is tucked away in a high-altitude, cold desert between the Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges. Solar-based technology plays a crucial role inthe village. Although it can be bitterly cold in Turtuk during the winter, the area still receives strong sun rays.

The three types of solar cookers are heat-trap boxes, curved concentrators, and panel cookers. The solar cooker shown above is a curved concentrator cooker, or “parabolic.”

Solar cookers consist of two simple black pots and plastic heat-retention bags surrounded by aluminum foil-covered cardboard which reflects sunlight and converts it to heat energy. Solar cookers have reduced time spent gathering wood for people, especially women, living in off-grid rural areas. Solar cookers also contribute to the environment by decreasing unhealthy smoke from wood fires and save one ton of wood each year.

The non-profit organization Solar Cookers International (SCI) spreads solar cooking awareness in areas like Turtuk, where there are diminishing sources of cooking fuel. SCI collaborates with not-for-profits and individuals worldwide to improve solar cooking technology and promote its impact on human health. The organization’s partners include the United Nations Development Program and the World Health Organization.

Mukherjee is one of 32 contestants for the People’s Choice Award competition in the SPIE International Year of Light Photo Contest. Judges have already chosen three winners, but now it's your turn to choose. SPIE is providing a prize of US $500 to the People's Choice winner. Online voting continues through 15 August.

Other People’s Choice finalists who demonstrated lighting solutions in their photography are:

"Educating," by Sadai Pandiyan Azhagu-Karpakam, residence without electricity, Virudhunagar District, Tamil Nadu, India, 29 September 2014. A mother helps her child study, while the father powers an electrical generator to fill the home with light.
"Solar Powered Street Lamps," by Maria Francesca Avila, basketball court, Quezon City, Philippines, 15 October 2014. Solar-powered LED street lighting offers a highly energy-efficient solution superior to conventional lighting and allows for a lamp-post spacing of up to 50 meters. Avila is a software developer and is involved in outreach programs located in remote areas of the Philippines. Read more about Avila.
"Sustainable Energy," by Dipayan Bhar, residence without electricity, Kolkata, India, 21 January 2013. A grandmother helps her grandson study using the electricity of potato biomass. The closed book in front of the boy is “Barnaparichay,” a beginner’s guide to the Bengali language written by Iswarchandra Vidyasagar. See Bhar’s portfolio on Smithsonian.com.
"The Light for Hope," by Abhijit Dey, madrasah in Duttapukur, West Bengal, India, 23 August 2010. Over a billion people around the world lack access to electricity. See Dey’s profile.
"Studying," by Handi Laksono, home in Wae Rebo, Flores NTT, Indonesia, 1 September 2014. Wae Rebo is a remote inland in Indonesia. Laksono trekked uphill for 3 hours to reach the home featured in the photo above. The home had a small solar panel attached to the roof and one small light bulb. See Laksono’s portfolio.
"The Human Light Tower," by Jose Ramos II, JalaJala, Rizal, Philippines, 24 May 2014. In rural areas of the Philippines, small towns cannot afford to construct light towers to guide small boats. Instead fishermen use petromax lamps to guide fishing boats.  
"Local Boys and Girls Studying with the Help of Hand-Held Torch and Lamps Where There Is No Electricity," by Md. Khalid Rayhan Shawon, night school in Satkhira, Bangladesh, 1 May 2013. See Shawon’s National Geographic profile.
"The Use of Solar Energy," by Nikki Sandino Maniacup Victoriano (Philippines), farm in Rizal, Philippines, 5 September 2012. AirJaldi Networks, a company that provides solar-powered Wi-Fi for the rural masses, is one of many organizations creating innovative technologies for developing nations.

See more contestants' photos in a previous post in this series:

11 June 2015

Restoring art and culture of the past -- with photonics

Photonics play a major part in restoration of the look of
a set of murals by Mark Rothko at Harvard University.
Ramesh Raskar, a computational photography expert at the MIT Media Lab, and two students used the idea of light projection in helping to develop a method for art conservation, writing software to isolate the images’ colors one pixel at a time and restore the look of a set of Rothko murals.

For the exhibition Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals, showing through 26 July at the Harvard Art Museums, Raskar and his team worked with art historians, conservation scientists, and conservators to develop digital projection technology that restores the appearance of the murals’ original rich colors.

The artworks had faded while on display in the 1960s and ’70s in a penthouse dining room on the Harvard University campus, for which they were commissioned. Deemed unsuitable for exhibition, the murals entered storage in 1979 and since then had rarely been seen by the public.

The team compared images of the murals in the new gallery to the restored photograph of the original. The software creates a compensation image that is sent to a digital projector and illuminates the murals exactly as they would have looked over 50 years ago ― and the vividness of Rothko’s murals is revived.

The museum turns off the digital projector every day from 4 to 5 p.m. so visitors can see the differences in Rothko’s murals before and after the process.

The SPIE Optical Metrology symposium later this month in Munich includes a plenary talk by Raskar on extreme computational imaging, and also includes a conference on applications of optics and photonics in variety of conservation methods.

The conference, Optics for Arts, Architecture, and Archaeology, chaired by Luca Pezzati of the Istituto Nazionale di Ottica and Piotr Targowski of Nicolaus Copernicus University, will include reports from projects concerned with examining pre-colonial Brazilian ceramics, post-earthquake inspection of masonry underlying murals, underwater survey of marble works submerged for centuries, and other topics.

A few of the many photonics technologies employed are pulsed-phase and infrared thermography, photogrammetry, 2D and 3D modeling, and optical microtopography.

These projects and the Rothko mural restoration are beautiful examples of one of the primary themes of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies: to highlight the myriad ways in which light has influenced and continues to influence human culture. Learn more about the United Nations-declared observance at www.spie.org/iyl.