29 December 2010

Photonics in solar, 3D, medicine, and more in the year's top stories

Photonics and optics continue to provide amazing new solutions for challenges such as better healthcare, new green energy sources and devices, and more efficient and capable manufacturing processes.

Every week, the SPIE Newsroom publishes several new reports from researchers about their latest work. Here’s a list (with links to the full articles) of just a few of the life-enhancing photonics advances reported this year from around the world.

FIFA live in 3D at the pub and in your living room

For the first time ever, this year’s World Cup audiences were able to watch some of the matches in real-time 3D without having to buy a ticket. The Federation International Football Association worked with Sony and its production partners to deliver two dozen of the 2010 FIFA World Cup matches held in South Africa, and several sports broadcast television stations in Australia, the UK, and the US broadcast matches in 3D as well. Gooooooaaaaal!

Moth’s eye suggests solution for solar and LED reflection

Ordered and disordered nanostructures with broadband antireflection properties can be used in solar cells, LEDs, and transparent glasses, reported researchers at Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology. The broadband and omnidirectional antireflection properties of the moth’s eye inspired the conformation of antireflective nanostructures (ARNSs) with promising uses in high-efficiency optical devices.

New algorithm for IR face recognition

Face recognition is a more natural, intuitive way to identify individuals, compared to other biometric authentication methods such as fingerprints, iris patterns, and voiceprint that generally rely on cooperation of the participants. Thermal IR offers a promising alternative for handling variations in face appearance caused by lighting changes, and facial expressions and poses, reported researchers at Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering. The team showed that IR-based algorithms have the potential to provide simpler and more robust solutions, improving performance in uncontrolled environments and combating deliberate attempts to obscure identity.

Microfluidics streamlines laboratory operations

Reducing the cost is expected to trigger a boom in lab-on-a-chip technology, and reusable or disposable paper chips may hold the key. Lab-on-a-chip technology -- more properly referred to as microfluidics -- has been making headlines since the 1990s when the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded the technology in the hope of developing handheld sensors for hazardous materials and/or healthcare monitoring. Two important recent advances have helped move the field forward. One was the development of rapid prototyping systems using poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS), at Harvard University, and another was the development of a microfluidic valve, at Stanford University.

A biologically inspired silicon vocal tract

Silicon models of the retina have been used in machine vision systems, and circuit models of the heart have been used to shed light on cardiac and circulatory malfunction. Silicon cochlea models have led to improved speech recognition in noise and low-power cochlear-implant processors for the deaf. Now, researchers at the National University of Singapore and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed the first integrated-circuit vocal tract using a physiological model of the human vocal tract combined with a bionic ear processor in a feedback speech-locked loop to synthesize speech.

What’s going on inside the body: biophotonics and OCT

The Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is looking at more ways to exploit the capabilities of optical coherence tomography (OCT) to see inside the body for diagnostics and treatment of medical conditions in the eyes, vascular system, and other tissues and organs. Jim Fujimoto talked about the latest developments and how clinical and engineering perspectives work together, in a video interview:

23 December 2010

Good news on the photonics funding front

The last few weeks have brought some good news for the advance of photonics research and technology, at least in the near term.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to authorize $46 billion over the next three years for the America COMPETES Act of 2010, continuing important basic research, science education, and other programs, and initiating new ones for green energy, science and innovation clusters, and workforce development.
On 15 December, the Technology Innovation Program (TIP) at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced grant awards totaling $22 million.
The TIP awards will fund nine projects in advanced manufacturing research in electronics, biotechnology and nanotechnology, and target technologies in fields ranging from biopharmaceuticals and electronics to renewable energy sources and energy storage. With matching funds from other sources, the TIP awards are expected to result in an estimated $46 million in funding for new advanced manufacturing research over the next three years.
However, while the COMPETES funding has been authorized, the money has not yet been appropriated. That isn’t expected to happen before February, already several months into the fiscal year. The actual amounts appropriated for various programs could be less than authorized.
While delighted to see continued strong support in COMPETES for NIST, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy), SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs said his was a cautious welcome.
The first America COMPETES Act was passed in 2007, based on recommendations outlined in the "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report released by the National Academy of Sciences in 2005. But, noted Arthurs, funding for the 2007 bill was not included in the subsequent appropriations omnibus action, striking "a damaging blow to getting America back on track."
No doubt there will be very close attention paid to the wording of the appropriations bill for the 2010 act.
And in the meantime, the solutions for industry and the quality-of-life improvements that photonics provides will be in the limelight next month at Photonics West in San Francisco.
Nine of 26 finalists for this year’s Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation will be honored for their products that break with conventional ideas to solve problems.
More than 100 products from some of the 1100-plus companies in the Photonics West exhibition will be launching new products, for biomedical optics, laser, MOEMS-MEMS, and optoelectronics applications.
There are some dazzling new ideas in play, and well-deserving of R&D support. Any suggestions on how to ensure priority for the COMPETES act and other government funding around the world?

21 December 2010

It's a great time to be in photonics

It’s a great time to be in the field of photonics -- those were the words of Mike Dunne speaking earlier this year to a standing-room-only audience gathered for his plenary talk at the SPIE Photonics Europe meeting in Brussels.
Dunne -- who at that time was with the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council and the HiPER project and has since moved to the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Lab -- is in a good position to know. He and NIF Director Ed Moses and others are at the forefront of work pursuing fusion as a source of sustainable, clean, affordable energy. Not only is that exciting science, but it’s an extremely worthy goal that will benefit people around the world and the physical environment along with us.
My objective for this blog is to celebrate photonics research and development, with the help of guest authors from the SPIE community and your comments as well. Look on Photonics for a Better World as a vehicle to carry the conversation -- to talk about news and advances, to connect people with projects of interest, and to note the many ways photonics technologies are applied to bettering life in all corners of the planet.
And as Mike Dunne pointed out last April, there is plenty to talk about. What is happening in your area of photonics to fire your enthusiasm?