01 April 2011

Telling a compelling story about photonics

Next week several hundred scientists will leave the comfort and familiarity of their labs and lecture halls to attempt a very difficult task: convince politicians of the priority of funding science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, research and innovation.

SET-CVD 2010 volunteers
This event is happening in Washington, D.C., via the Science-Engineering-Technology Working Group’s 16th annual Congressional Visits Day, but the challenge -- the opportunity, really -- is one faced by the science community around the world. SPIE members will be among the volunteers participating.

EU Green Paper

The European Commission has invited comments from stakeholders on a Green Paper which aims to launch a public debate on the future of EU research and innovation funding. Photonics industry and research professionals are among those from other disciplines offering their perspectives.

While competing for governmental support may pit science against other needs and interests, photonics -- as an enabling technology -- is sometimes challenged in its ability to be the star in the telling of its own story.

Materials science, geology, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology and other fields often have a more straightforward message for the non-scientist.

It’s easy for a politician to understand why hydrologists being able to track long-term changes in the water table in dry-farming or range areas is important, for example. And the ability of weather forecasters to predict major storms and flooding is a clear story as well.

It should be a lot easier for photonics to tell its story. After all, photonics is enabling all of those capabilities, as well as more perhaps obviously light-based applications such as LED lighting and HDTVs, laser surgery and solar energy.

Photonics works not only behind the scenes -- calibrating color balance inside the lamp, for example -- but on center stage -- welding injured tissue and correcting vision.

An email signature I saw recently said it very well. This message, it said, was “Sent from my laser-manufactured iPhone and delivered by the photonics-powered Internet.”

How do you tell your story about the importance of photonics?

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