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22 December 2011

Remote sensing at work: Organic crops, wetlands monitoring, coal mining, and more

Remote sensing technologies provide solutions to numerous and varied problems around the world. Here are six recent applications:

How can a remote yet vital wetland be monitored?

Problem: The socio-economically vital Sudd wetland in southern Sudan’s Nile River swamps is threatened by overgrazing and by loss of vegetation during the wet season. But its remoteness and inaccessibility due to civil war prevents field studies.

Solution: Using geospatial data-authoring software to quantify wetland cover changes, researchers from Ain Shams University in Cairo developed a process to interpret Landsat-generated imagery, map land-cover types and compare the images to produce change-detection maps. Read more in the team’s article in the SPIE Newsroom


What happens to land stability after coal is mined?

Problem: Extracting coal from underground mines generally leads to subsidence of the overlaying land within days or sometimes years. Local governments need information about land subsidence to ensure that miners are staying within permitted areas and to monitor environmental effects. However, conventional field monitoring is expensive and time-consuming, and mountainous or inhospitable terrain can make it difficult or even impossible.

Solution: Researchers from the National Remote Sensing Center of China and the Center for Earth Observation and Digital Earth of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have reported on a method of monitoring land subsidence with multi-band differential synthetic aperture radar interferometry (DInSAR). Air- or spaceborne detectors scan Earth's surface with radio waves to create a topographical map of the ground, and DInSAR compares SAR interferometry data taken hours, days or years apart to show subtle topographical changes. Read the team’s article in the SPIE Newsroom.

Are those crops organic?

Problem: Organic agriculture provides healthy food and protects the environment by avoiding the widespread dissemination of chemicals. Products may be labeled “organic” only if they are produced according to established standards, undergo an evaluation and pass a yearly inspection.

Solution: Because conventional and organic crops are treated differently, their characteristics are also different. The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with Ecocert, an organic certification organization, to use satellite images to spot these differences and support the certification process. This new space-based approach for organic farming was developed by Keyobs, VISTA and the University of Liège under the guidance of Ecocert, as part of an ESA Earth Observation Market Development project. Read more in the SPIE Professional article.

From Prague

Among papers presented at SPIE Remote Sensing in Prague this fall that examined the oceans were the following reports from the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. (The papers were published in the SPIE Digital Library, with open-access abstracts and full papers available by subscription, rental or pay-per-view.)

Is surface runoff decreasing ocean fish stocks?

Problem: Surface runoff from land can affect ocean fish stocks by inhibiting the vitality of chlorophyll in phytoplankton in the water.

Solution: A team from the University of Malta and the European Commission Joint Research Centre statistically compared ocean color values from satellites with values collected in the field. Ocean color can be used to gauge the productivity of a marine area since it is the measure of suspended chlorophyll pigment. Chlorophyll is found in the microscopic phytoplankton which are the basis of marine food webs. Access the team’s paper “A first attempt at testing correlation between MODIS ocean colour data and in situ chlorophyll -- measurements within Maltese coastal waters” in the SPIE Digital Library, and read the Times of Malta article on the work.

How does an oil spill affect fish reproduction?

Problem: In the Gulf of Mexico, oil and dispersant chemicals left after the Deepwater Horizon spill covered critical fish spawning and larval areas. Oil on the sea surface and the timing of its occurrence likely impacted the developing eggs and larvae of bluefin tuna, blue marlin and other fishes whose eggs concentrate in the sea surface microlayer (SML) ? the topmost millimeter. The SML also concentrates petroleum, petroleum-derived hydrocarbons, tar, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals and plastics. Exposure to oil and oil dispersants causes acute toxicity, narcosis and eventual death in marine fish larvae. Surface oil has been detected in 100% of the northernmost whale shark sightings, 32.8 % of the bluefin tuna spawning area and 38 % of the blue marlin larval area.

Solution: Researchers from Ocean Research and Conservation Association and the Florida Institute of Technology used biogeographical analyses to gain insights on these impacts. The research team georeferenced historical ichthyoplankton surveys and published literature to map targeted spawning and larval areas in the Gulf with daily satellite-derived images. Read more about the work in their paper “Potential impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on large pelagic fishes.”

What damage did the earthquake and tsunami cause?

Problem: Depending on its magnitude and location, an earthquake may have unexpectedly complex impacts, and affected areas may be difficult to access in order to assess the damage.

Solution: After the 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the Pacific Coast of Japan on 11 March 2011, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) provided images acquired by the Advanced Land Observing Satellite (ALOS) to national and local governments of Japan, to aid in disaster recovery and restoration. JAXA also received and analyzed more than 5,000 scenes via the International Disaster Charter and Sentinel Asia, and supported the governments through its Disaster Management Support Systems Office. Read more about the JAXA team’s efforts in their paper “Disaster monitoring for Japan Earthquake with satellites by JAXA.”

Remote sensing is indeed at work around the world, monitoring impacts of human activity and natural phenomena to help improve quality of life.

05 December 2011

Photonics erase a hindering past

Light is now enabling equal opportunity employment.

In Orange County, California, Judge David Carter has been supporting a program to remove tattoos in order to help convicted offenders to successfully re-enter community and get started on a positive path. The breakthrough will allow them to advance without telltale evidence of a hindering past.

The program, run by Stuart Nelson, Medical Director at the Beckman Laser Institute, University of California-Irvine, has already received kudos from the U.S. Probation Service in Orange County. The process employs laser light to fragment the ink particles so that they are carried away through the body’s immune system.

“This is particularly important to these clients because as they’re trying to re-enter society, acquire a job, establish a new identity and a new career, the stigma associated with having a tattoo can often inhibit that,” Nelson said.

Nelson said they’re fortunate in that most of their clients come with the popular dark blue and black inks that are easily removed by lasers. Removal can be problematic when facing chemical components called organometallic dyes, used to make colored inks.

Nelson has worked with about two dozen probationers so far, removing tattoos located on hands, lower arms and necks.

Nelson’s research focuses on laser and other biomedical optics techniques with applications such as port wine stain removal, noninvasive monitoring of blood with external probes for use by people with diabetes or for monitoring blood sugar in surgery to monitor anesthetics, cancer diagnostics and treatment, and many other life-saving, life-enhancing light-based technologies. See more in this SPIE Newsroom video interview:


04 October 2011

New industry tag line? We like it!

What’s in a name? The crew at Photonics Media obviously know the value of the right words. “Light Matters” is an excellent name for their video series on photonics news, and their tagline -- “It’s only five minutes to enlightment” -- is great as well.

So my colleagues and I were particularly pleased to read Group Publisher Karen Newman’s comments about the name of the annually organized pavilion in the SPIE Optics + Photonics exhibition that celebrates the contributions of the field. It’s also our blog’s name, of course, and is shared by a series in the SPIE Professional member magazine -- newly open access starting this month.

In her editorial published yesterday, Karen wrote, “Photonics for a Better World. I like the sound of that. I think it could be a great tag line for the industry.” We couldn’t agree more, and urge you to read Karen’s write-up about the life-enhancing photonics applications featured in the pavilion last August in San Diego.

Sustainable energy, earlier disease detection, green entrepreneurship, clean water, improved prosthetic devices, radars for on-the-field head injury assessment … photonics offers all this and much, much more. Take a look at the SPIE Professional series, and browse the posts below.What solutions are you creating with photonics?

Here's looking at you ... Ryan Hannahoe (Montana State University) shared astronomy with visitors to the Photonics for a Better World pavilion at SPIE Optics + Photonics last August.

27 September 2011

Will cuts in science funding undermine economic boosts from photonics industry?

Researchers and engineers in optics and photonics are watching closely, along with scientists from other disciplines, as governments look at serious budget cuts.

Everything is on the table, but of major concern is whether science and technology will suffer a disproportionate share of these budget cuts.

Ron Driggers
“Science and technology make an easy target for government policy makers, since frequently these fields are not seen to have an immediate effect on any individual’s livelihood,” notes Ron Driggers, Editor of Optical Engineering and a superintendent of the optical sciences division of the U.S. Naval Research Lab.

However, he stresses, science and technology have a dramatic long-term effect on everyone’s livelihood, driving the economy and changing our lives for the better in many ways.

“Science and technology literally create entire industries, and one result is jobs,” he asserts. “The creation and maintenance of the associated jobs more than repays the initial investment in science and technology via more government tax revenue and less demand for entitlement expenditures.”

Here are a just few of Ron’s examples:

● The airplane, which led to an entire airline industry in which large company revenues top US$30 billion and thousands of workers are employed.

● The laser, for which the market is predicted to be in excess of US$7 billion in 2011.

● The global positioning system (GPS), with a predicted devices industry worth US$75 billion by 2013.

As big as these numbers are, Ron notes, they are dwarfed by the wealth created in the semiconductor and computer industries enabled by the invention of the transistor and the integrated circuit.

While the investments made by governments in research and development are usually small compared to the investments made by industry, government funding typically is for basic science. This basic science is the basis for the applied research in science and technology that builds future economies.

If there is no basic research now, then there will not be new technologies and industries springing from applied research in the future.

The story is straightforward, but it is not always obvious to policy makers grappling with budget shortages and balancing the many and varied needs their countries face.

Help them out – take a few minutes to tell your governmental representatives why funding science and technology is important for a strong future.

How will you tell the story to your legislators or parliamentarians?

22 September 2011

Telemedicine: using the cell phone in field-testing for malaria and other diseases




What a great idea!

Aydogan Ozcan's group at University of California, Los Angeles, have developed a way to use the cell phone in a lens-free computational microscopy system utilizing digital inline holography to create on-chip imagers. The technique enables in-the-field testing for diseases such as malaria from remote locations, enabling faster and more universal diagnosis and thereby helping to save more lives.

In addition to Aydogan's interview last month with SPIE Newsroom in August 2011, more information from the group about the project and the technology is at these links:



21 September 2011

Sharing the light: photonics and vision

Nicolaus Copernicus students explore optical fibers with kindergarten students as part of an SPIE Student Chapter outreach project.



Members of the SPIE Student Chapter at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Poland went to a kindergarten to teach about physics, and came away with a powerful, life-changing idea for helping children with vision problems.


Chapter member Danuta Bukowska tells the story:


Like many other people with healthy vision, we had remained unaware of how difficult the lives of partially sighted people may be until we visited the Jan Brzechwa Kindergarten.

One intention was to demonstrate special experiments in physics to the children. In the process, we saw how much work and practice on their part is essential for the partially sighted children among the class to cope in society.

Deeply moved by this experience, we decided to take advantage of the resourcefulness and skills of young people who could put together an educational set of toys that would facilitate the process of learning for partially blind children.

The idea was to complete a cheap set of optical toys for visual stimulation and teaching aids that can be used in preschools and schools.

The objective was to draw attention to problems faced by partially blind children, e.g., lack of simple and inexpensive devices to stimulate visual concentration through the change of light intensity of color. That is important to rehabilitation, as it teaches perceptiveness, concentration and visual and physical coordination.

We held a national contest under the title “The Art of Seeing,” to design optical tools supporting education and development for partially sighted children. The competition was open to all, but aimed particularly at students and graduates of science, technology and design.

We placed all the important information on a website. We had succeeded in collecting abundant data about kindergartens for partially sighted children from all over Poland, as well as a rich source of books and materials which would be of help to the contestants while working on their projects. In the process, we learned how high the demand is for these materials.

We received 43 projects of toys from all over the country, from students of physics, engineering and even the arts. Each project team had to learn something more about the effects of light. The projects were very professional, and we were able to donate the toys to kindergartens.

And the project showed, once again,  that optics is beautiful, true, and very much involved in helping those most in need.

The first prize went to Adrian Kępka, Michał Mateusz Pełka and Jan Andrzej Szczepanek, students of Warsaw University of Technology and members of Warsaw University of Technology SPIE Student Chapter. They had constructed a toy called ColorMEMO. The toy is an electronic version of a MEMO-type game whose objective is to arrange finite elements into pairs according to color and sound.

When designing the toy, the students bore in mind the notion that there is compensation between the senses. In their project they emphasized the compensation for sight via the sense of touch: they used different types of texture on the bright elements of the toy’s surface, as opposed to the dark ones. As a result, there is correlation between the light effects (visual experience) and the texture of the surface (experience by means of touch).

The second prize went to Artur Borkowski, Łukasz Huchel and Maksymilian Klimontowicz, students of the Silesian University and the creators of a Happy Flower toy. Happy Flower is an electronic toy whose objective is to throw a ball through random highlighted halls. When a child hits the target, a song plays as an award. The toy emphasizes the compensation for sight via the sense of sound.

Nikodem Szpunar and Kamila Niedźwiedzka, who created a toy called the Magic Table, won the third prize. This lovely-looking and well-constructed wooden toy consists of a set of paper boards, wooden pawns, a handle, and magnets.

The toy has visual and kinetic aspects. It teaches children observation and co-ordination, as well as spatial awareness. By use of mobile elements, the toy stimulates sight and an ability to follow an object with one’s eyes. The magnets, which may be perceived by children as magical and mysterious, develop curiosity: an essential part of a child’s development. Each board is themed and it works on a child’s imagination.

And how does it work? Under the Magic Table there is a handle with a magnet which attracts a pawn that moves on the surface of the table. In this way the pawns are moved with the handle.

Well done — our congratulations to all!

Clockwise from lower left, Nicolaus Copernicus University SPIE Student Chapter members show projects from the contest: Szymon with “Happy Flower,” Karolina with “Kropek,” Karol with “Nothing :),” Danuta with “Magic Table,” Ewa with “Color Memo,” and Marta with “Orange Tree.”

21 August 2011

Volunteer vacation has a photonics focus

How I spent my summer vacation: volunteering in the tropics.

Three student friends of SPIE Fellow Dr. Carmiña Londoño will have some great stories to tell about their summer break as they go back to school in the next few weeks. They spent a week this summer as volunteers teaching optics and other topics at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

Supported financially by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and the Optical Society of America, and by Kreischer Optics who provided lenses and prisms, Londoño’s group added an optics component to the arts and crafts, sports, language classes, and other activities organized by Orphanage Outreach.

The students -- Lillian, Nora, and Matthew -- also spent part of the week hoeing, weeding, and preparing the orphanage’s gardens for future planting.

For Londoño and Lillian -- her daughter -- this was the second such trip, and part of their tradition of taking a one-week volunteer vacation each summer.

“For reading classes, we used many of the books that Nora and Lillian brought as a gift from their school,” Londoño said. A teacher at the girls’ school had helped organize a bake sale that raised nearly $250 that was used to buy Spanish books for the orphanage.
Carmina Londono tests a kaleidoscope built at optics camp.

“Optics camp” was held Wednesday evening.

“We made a presentation about the human eye, animal vision, rainbows, fiber optics, lasers and cameras’” Londoño said. “We distributed small diffraction gratings, had fun looking at different light sources and optical illusions, and distributed some ‘optics goodies’,” such as the kits for laser targeting and building kaleidoscopes and telescopes, fiber-optic pens, and other items donated by SPIE.

The evening was so successful that Orphanage Outreach Executive Director Tom Eklund challenged Londoño -- Program Director of the Americas Program in the Office of International Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation (NSF) -- to recruit more scientists and engineers for more science camps.

“This is truly a tall order,” said Londoño, who pointed out the trip was a volunteer activity for her, not an NSF program. “I committed to trying to convince four of my friends (who are scientists and engineers) to perhaps go for one week next year. I have already lined up one geologist friend, so I have three more to go.”

Toward the end of the week, they visited a market town on the border with Haiti.

“The Haitians walk across the border to buy supplies from the Dominicans,” Londoño said. “They carry really heavy loads of chickens, eggs, vegetables, clothing, and building supplies on their heads … men, women, children, old people, young people, all working non-stop.

“There was lots of noise, honking, and no room to move. There were many tired faces, faces, strong smells, a sea of human activity with a palpable sense of desperation.

“We volunteers stood out with our colorful Orphanage Outreach T-shirts and our uncomfortable demeanor trying to make sense of what we were seeing and perhaps what we were feeling.”
A memorable moment in a memorable vacation, indeed.


03 August 2011

Seeing the light: LEDs at work in lighting and in wireless networking

Not only does Philips Lighting North America’s 10-watt LED bulb have the potential for saving billions of dollars in U.S. energy consumption and avoiding millions of metric tons of carbon emissions: it’s dimmable as well. 

The bulb has earned the San Jose, California, company the Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) — the L Prize — for a 10-watt replacement for the 60-watt incandescent bulb.

Replacing every 60-watt incandescent bulb in the U.S. with Philips’10-watt LED bulb would save 35 terawatt-hours of electricity or $3.9 billion in one year and avoid 20 million metric tons of carbon emissions, according to the DOE prize announcement (enough electricity to power the lights of nearly 18 million U.S. households, or nearly triple the annual electricity consumption in Washington, D.C.). 

Steve Landau of Philips talks about the prize-winning bulb in this SPIE Newsroom video:




LEDs for wireless, too

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institue for Telecommunications have been working with LEDs as well, looking at transforming energy from LED room lighting into a home wireless network with enough capacity to transmit four HD videos simultaneously to four different laptops.

What other energy-saving uses is LED technology being applied in?

01 August 2011

That green glow from the lab? It's photonics innovation

The recent news from Brussels that the European Commission is proposing to increase research and innovation funding to €80.2 billion for the 2014-2020 budget has a decidedly green tint. Some of the money in the proposal to fund the EU’s newly named Horizon 2020 strategy would be earmarked for energy, and some to make the economy greener and more competitive.

Examples of how photonics -- one of the six Key Enabling Technologies identified by the European Commission -- drives innovation in support of sustainability are everywhere.

As an overview, Steve Eglash (Stanford University and Precourt Institute for Energy) explains in this video just what "green photonics" is, and talks about the integration of disciplines such as psychology, law, business, and physics.



In a keynote paper presented last March at SPIE Eco-Photonics in Strasbourg, Berit Wessler (OSRAM) and Ursula Tober (VDI Technologiezentrum) provided a comprehensive look at the direct environmental benefits from -- for example -- laser-based manufacturing.

Citing examples in solid-state lighting, solar cells, and optical communications as well as in manufacturing, the paper notes that "In addition to the direct eco-benefits derived from the products themselves, green photonics will also impact the product design and manufacturing processes employed."

The full paper, "Green photonics: the role of photonics in sustainable product design," is available via open access in the SPIE Digital Library.

More examples were provided at the Strasbourg meeting by companies including TRUMPF, SCHOTT, Nokia, Daimler, OSRAM, Telecom Paritech, Deutsche telecom and telecom Italia:
  • smart LEDs in automobile engineering, both outside and inside the vehicle
  • ecologically sound glass for lighting
  • diffraction to save energy in smart phone display
  • energy reduction in optical fiber telecom networking.

Later this month,  at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, a special forum on "Green" Materials led by Michael Postek (U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology) and Nora Savage (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) will explore the use of benign materials, innovative reclamation and recycling options, and much more.

For more ideas about what's ahead in the solar arena, the Optics + Photonics program on Solar Energy + Technology will include more than 300 papers advancing photovoltaics, thin films, solar hydrogen, and related fields. As the abstract for a keynote talk on "Green nanotechnology" by Geoffrey Smith (University of Technology, Sydney) shows, photonics has gone green at all levels.

All this green thinking around the globe is very timely. With the economy's growing reliance on photonics and an increasing need for sustainable choices across all areas of life, green photonics innovation is a vital part of the solution to the major challenges facing the world.

15 July 2011

Knowing what we don't know: 'Aha' moments in overcoming the valley of death

(Michelle Xu is a PhD-graduate from the University of Toronto, where she worked to engineer diagnostic hand-held devices using nano-grating surface plasmon sensors and nano-pillar photonics crystal sensors to enable the early detection of cancer. Knowing that her device could identify high-risk individuals and help prevent disease, she was motivated to commercialize her research. To support her efforts, Newport and SPIE sponsored her attendance at the Biomedical Engineering Entrepreneurship Acadamy (BMEA) held at the University of California, Davis earlier this month. Below are her reflections on the experience. Her colleague Chang Won will be writing about his experience at the academy next week!)

The number one lesson I learned at the BMEA was that in academia, we start by solving a problem and then search for needs; in business planning, we start with a need, and then solve the problem. This issue of course raises the question, “Are technologies validated differently in academia and in industry?”

Certainly, technology validation in business is not just reproducibility: the technology has to create value and is a low risk investment. Hence, we need to foresee its entire life cycle: innovation, prototyping, testing, certifying, manufacturing, performance, maintenance, and disposal. Regarding the legal issues, in addition to the commonly known IP and copy right protections, there is also FDA approval, employment rights, security regulations, etc.

The business team is a multidisciplinary group of scientists, and also management and regulation specialists, typically not found in academia. Inevitably, people are your number one asset. Working with a team of the “right” people, you then need to assess the market.

Market research is probing what the end-user wants and knowing the business competitions, having the knowledge of which we might need to tweak the design and modify the marketing and distribution strategies. Besides these obvious points, there are also concerns for reimbursement positioning, which is especially important for pricing medical devices.

At this point, we are finally ready to put together a business plan that hopefully can convince some angels and venture capitalists to invest in us. But it's important to remember that this is just the beginning.

All of this comes together to show that knowing what we don’t know is the key to move ideas from research to market place. We, the academia-born researchers, have been sheltered from the complications of product development and never learned that commercialization is more than patent filing. We still have a lot to learn about business. And, once we decide to take the leap, there should be full commitment. This is my biggest "aha moment" from attending the BMEA workshop.

(And there is no better practice ground than the annual start-up pitch competition held at Photonics West. It's always a challenge to present a research project AND business plan in under 2 minutes. Submit your presentation for Photonics West, San Francisco, 21 - 26 January 2012.)

27 June 2011

Ideas from the photonics lab can improve -- and even save -- lives

We’re living in the Century of the Photon, and examples of the important roles the enabling technology of photonics and optics play in our lives are everywhere.

For examples, start with computers and the internet.

SPIE Fellow John Greivenkamp, professor of optics at the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences, talks about the optical technologies inherent in those applications in this brief video.



A list of 50 breakthroughs contributed by researchers at America’s national labs has been compiled in a brochure published by the U.S. Department of Energy, and posted in a PDF on their website. Among the list:



  • From learning about photosynthesis came the ability to explore how to derive sustainable energy from the sun.
  • An engineered particle removes arsenic from drinking water, and an ultraviolet-light system kills microbes that cause water-borne diseases.
  • A revolution in medicine that has saved many lives with cancer-detecting nuclear imaging devices came out of development of the scintillation camera to detect gamma rays emitted by radioactive isotopes.
We heard about the brochure through the Berkeley Lab, which noted that a second printing is planned for distribution to Members of Congress and others -- great idea!

Photonics has a positive impact on the economy as well. The recently published Photonics21 Vision for a Key Enabling Technology of Europe report estimates the annual growth rate of the photonics sector at more than 10% -- several times faster than other sectors of the global economy.

Look for gentler, more effective healthcare; low-energy solid-state lighting; a greener environment protected by better pollution control; and much more: brought to you by photonics!

16 June 2011

Solving problems with light: identifying brain tumors

In the Biomedical Engineering department at Vanderbilt University, Anita Mahadevan-Jansen and other researchers are using light in the form of laser spectroscopy to locate brain cancers -- and making innovations in STEM education as well, by making stronger connections between math and optics.

08 June 2011

How many ways can photonics innovation change life for the better?

Quick quiz: List five examples of how photonics technology has changed how you live -- how you work, travel, relax, look after your health --- whatever. Easy, right? Now, name five photonics-based changes you expect to see in the near future. Also easy.

Photonics solutions are everywhere, and the time is ripe for more photonics innovation. Governments, industry, and other funders around the world are developing new policy initiatives and offering new sources of funding in support of photonics R&D.

Some of those initiatives need your participation to be successful. Among them:

●   In the UK, photonics recently was named one of the potential candidate areas for investment in the next phase of the Strategy and Implementation Plan for Technology and Innovation Centres (TICs). If you live in the UK, you can help influence that choice: Comments about what photonics can do are being sought, and can be posted on the photonics TIC discussion space or emailed to centres@tsb.gov.uk.

●   The European Commission recently closed a comment period on its Green Paper on Research and Innovation, in which they sought input for the next budget cycle on bringing together the current Framework Programme for research, the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme, and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

●   In an effort to identify and encourage future pathways for photonics innovation, a committee has been appointed by the U.S. National Academy of Science to update the 1998 “Harnessing Light” study of the photonics industry. The committee is in the information-gathering stage, and is doing so through a variety of methods including town-hall-style meetings at events. One such event is scheduled for Monday 22 August at SPIE Optics+Photonics in San Diego, California.

●   On the industry side, one new initiative is the Blue Ocean Grants and Challenges Program launched by Ocean Optics. Blue Ocean follows an open-innovation model expounded by Henry Chesbrough in his book by that title, where companies pay for new information from the outside. The program is looking specifically for new ideas in optical sensing that have potential for market commercialization.

●   Another recent initiative is the newly founded Center for Optical Research and Education (CORE) at Utsunomiya University. The center represents the first time in Japan for this type of joint effort between industry  -- Canon Inc. -- and a national university. (You'll see more on this in a subsequent post.)

●   At the recent Laser World of Photonics, Georg Schuette of Germany's Federal Ministry for Education and Research announced a comprehensive and well-funded Agenda 2020 for photonics.


Looking for inspiration for your own innovation process or ideas? Try these:

●   John Kao, author of Innovation Nation, and Regina Dugan, Director of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and plenary speaker at the recent SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing symposium are among those interviewed in a recent CNN-TIME feature on American innovators.

Angelique Irvin, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Clear Align, shares her experience in photonics innovation in an SPIE Newsroom video interview:



●   Jerry Nelson, 2010 winner of the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics for innovations in telescope design, also talked with the SPIE Newsroom about his work:



●   A sampling of  international innovation in biomedical optics was presented at the Photonics West 2011 Biomedical Optics “Hot Topics” session.

Inspired yet? What's your innovation story?

01 June 2011

Tiny island, big opportunity! (Part 2 of 2 from Biophotonics '11)

(This is a guest post by Sabine Donner and Nadine Tinne, SPIE Student Chapter members who spent the end of May in Sweden at Biophotonics '11)

Last week we wrote about our expectations going into Biophotonics '11, and now that school has finished for the summer, we wanted to check back in to share a bit of our experience and encourage you all to find ways to get in touch with others in your own fields of research.

The tiny island of Ven between Denmark and Sweden hosted 15 professors and 64 students from 18 countries who joined the Biophotonics ’11 Summer School. Seven days was hardly enough time to sufficiently discuss topics of biomedical optics, hear lectures and make friends!

Dr. Katarina Svanberg (SPIE’s president) and the many other lecturers shared deep insights with us into their fields of research, including OCT, photodynamic therapy, and tumor imaging, and also motivated us to use photonics to fulfill unmet clinical needs. They emphasized the many ways that photons and their interactions with biological tissue can be used to improve medical treatments.

In addition to the fascinating lectures, there were also many opportunities to network with the other students and experts as well. Poster sessions gave us the chance to present our research to the group and learn about others’ fields of study. This gave rise to plenty of new ideas which were discussed in coffee breaks, lunch and dinner conversations.

The Swedish student delegation organized bike tours and a quiz walk, which gave us a greater sense of place and helped the group members get to know one another.

It was thrilling to spend a week getting to know the current and future experts in the field of biomedical optics, who were not only willing to share their extensive knowledge, but also their motivation and enthusiasm for biomedical research. Whether you’re a student or a professor, if you have the chance to take part in something like this, we definitely encourage you to not pass it up!

25 May 2011

Water, water, everywhere: photonics can make sure it’s fit to drink

Do you have ready access to clean drinking water?
That isn’t something everyone around the planet can take for granted. More than a billion people do not have access to clean water, and around 1.5 million children die each year as a result of water-borne diseases.
Several projects we’ve heard about recently are employing photonics technologies to change this picture and save lives.
  • A European Union research consortium is working on a compact, low-cost photocatalytic water treatment system that uses photons from sunlight to decompose organic pollutants in water. The completed system will resemble rooftop solar panels, and will be placed on dwellings near ponds and streams with poor water quality. It will require no electricity or chemicals, so will be well-suited to developing regions – and sustainable, wherever it is installed. Funded by an EU Seventh Framework Programme grant ,the consortium includes groups from Denmark, France, Italy, Israel, Jordan, South Africa, and the UK.
  • Among the scientists involved in the EU project  are several at Tel Aviv University, where a number of far-reaching water research efforts are in play. Dror Avisar and Hadas Mamane have initiated a planned water research center where the main goal will be to improve water reclamation methods, using new technologies the remove pesticides and other chemicals.
  • A program at the University of Rochester has spun up a business plan for a new company with the goal of building inexpensive solar-powered water pumps to provide drinking and irrigation water in off-grid locations in drought-prone regions. Partners in the proposed venture are Daniel Williams, a doctoral student at the Institute of Optics; Awak Malith, a UR physics graduate who fled war-torn Sudan as a child; and Chilean business students Roberto Chavarria (a civil engineer) and Paul Oyaneder (a social psychologist).

Awak Malith (center) on a visit last year to Sudan.

  • Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institutes have developed a bio-sensor that reacts to a wide range of potentially hazardous substances in just a few minutes, enabling constant, real-time monitoring of drinking water. The system can detect substances such as cyanide, ricin, or toxic metabolic products from bacteria that can be fatal even in concentrations of nanograms per liter. Among those working on the project at Fraunhofer are Iris Trick (Institute for Interdisciplinary Engineering and Biotechnology-IGB) and Thomas Bernard (Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation-IOSB). Also participating are researchers at project partner Moldaenke. 
You can learn more about the world’s water problems from several sources. Among them are:
And maybe you have ideas for more solutions?



19 May 2011

School’s not out for summer: Broadening horizons at Biophotonics ’11 (Part 1 of 2)

Sabine (left) and Nadine (right at Hannover
Airport en route to Ven
Biophotonics ’11 is underway and two of SPIE’s Student Chapter members are participating in the summer school program. Sabine Donner and Nadine Tinne, both students pursuing their PhDs in biophotonics at the Laser Zentrum Hannovere e.V., are currently on the island of Ven in Sweden, learning about tissue optics, optical imaging and cell manipulation with lasers, among many other things. SPIE is proud to be a sponsor of this event, which brings together renowned lecturers from all over the world with promising students from this field. Nadine and Sabine are going to check back in at the end of the summer school session with additional reflections and more about what they learned, but in the meantime, here are some of their thoughts as they got ready to head to Sweden!

“We are excited about getting in touch with other young scientists and expert lecturers and having the chance to discuss our work with them – hopefully being inspired and prepared for our future research. We both got into biophotonics because it’s a multidisciplinary field that can make a difference in people’s lives, with colleagues from different backgrounds and areas of study coming together to pursue a common goal. Biophotonics’11 is a great example of why we entered into this field to begin with. With the background from our own research, we are hoping the school will help us deal with the problems we are facing each day in our research and to go even further in our studies.”

Nadine is studying nonlinear laser-tissue interaction in transparent tissue by the generation and time-resolved analysis of femtosecond-laser induced optical breakdowns in different tissue-model substances. This work will contribute to a better understanding and improvement of the cutting processes during fs-laser eye surgery. Fs-laser surgeries are used in the field of ophthalmology to treat conditions such as keratoplasty, cataracts and presbyopia.

Sabine is studying the surgical insertion of permanently implanted electrodes for deep brain stimulation by means of optical imaging. Deep brain stimulation is used to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, and the exact positioning of the electrodes at the target area in the brain is crucial for successful treatment. Technical challenges include the problem of intrinsic microscopic contrast of brain tissue and the development of a needle-like probe for insertion in the target region.

13 May 2011

Here comes the sun: Sustainable energy solutions and green photonics

The effort toward a sustainable energy future got a boost this week.

Japan — already a leading world player in expanding  solar energy production capacity development — announced it is changing direction from nuclear power initiatives for electricity generation to renewable energy sources. Prime Minister Naoto Kan told the world press that Japan will increase energy generation via solar, wind and biomass in its power grid, as well as enhance energy conservation.

While the change in direction was at least partly related to tsunami damage nuclear-power facilities experienced in March, green photonics initiatives in several countries in recent years have boosted the world’s capacity for sustainable energy.

Here’s where the action has been:

• Photovoltaics (PV) for solar energy: Following record installations in 2010, there is now nearly 40 GW of at-peak PV capacity installed around the world, according to the latest annual report and forecast of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). German and Italian markets have grown the fastest, and Japan and the United States also have new installations in place and plans for more. Read more about PV markets in the optics.org article. And check out this video to find out about work being done by one company:



• Solid-state lighting (SSL): Replacing less-efficient incandescent systems with SSL systems worldwide has the potential to reduce consumption of energy by approximately 15%. Sale of incandescent bulbs already has been banned or restricted in Australia, Canada, and the European Union, to be replaced by energy-efficient photonics-based lighting.

• Lasers and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for manufacturing: Laser technology are also helping in manufacturing to reduce energy usage, boosted in recent months by new fiber laser applications in automobile manufacturing, shipbuilding, and elsewhere. LED technologies also save energy – and cost – by being faster, more precise, and giving a higher yield.

Sustainable photonics solutions serve both industrialized nations and countries that are rebuilding their economies and infrastructures -- protecting environmental resources, providing jobs, and lowering industry costs.

Here are some of the ways SPIE helps support R&D in green photonics:

• The Journal of Photonics for Energy under Editor-in-Chief Zakya Kafafi (National Science Foundation) serves as a bridge between research activities in photonics and renewable energy. PV advances figure heavily in recent articles  by Roland Winston (Univ. of California, Merced), Raymond Kostuk (Univ. of Arizona, College of Optical Sciences), and others. Articles are open access through 2011.

• Making solar energy cost-competitive with carbon-based and other traditional sources is a central topic the annual symposium on Solar Energy and Technology in San Diego, chaired by Martha Symko-Davies (National Renewable Energy Lab) as part of SPIE Optics and Photonics (21-25 August).

• SPIE Remote Sensing in Prague (19-22 September) showcases work in monitoring agricultural and hydrological systems, climate changes, natural disasters, and other environments. Symposium chairs are Karin Stein (Fraunhofer-IOSB Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation) and Charles Bostater (Marine-Environmental Optics Lab and Remote Sensing Center, Florida Institute of Technology).

• Last March, SPIE Eco-Photonics in Strasbourg provided a new forum for discussion of sustainable solutions such as lighter-weight automobiles for better fuel efficiency and workforce re-engineering and education to meet changing industry needs. Symposium chairs were Patrick Meyrueis (Univ. of Strasbourg) and Dan Curticapean (Offenburg Univ. of Applied Sciences).

Tell us about your green photonics work -- what’s new in your lab?

 

Even in the U.S. Northwest! Solar panels have been installed on the roof of the SPIE headquarters building.

22 April 2011

Healing the brain with light: optogenetics



Repairing brain disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain, by targeted application of light: research by the Synthetic Neurobiology Group led by Ed Boyden at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has the potential to change many lives through photonics.

Boyden described his work in a new video interview for the SPIE Newsroom. Read more here:

Boyden's article on 'Controlling the brain with light,' SPIE Newsroom

'Seeing the light,' MIT News

'Selective brain stimulation with light,' SPIE Newsroom