20 January 2011

MEMS in space, prostate cancer testing, origins of life: light goes exploring at Photonics West

Conference chairs have offered more suggestions on presentations to hear at SPIE Photonics West next week. The technologies and applications in the latest recommendations differ in many ways, but all share one important commonality: they all demonstrate how versatile and powerful photonics is when it comes to gathering information about matter, in environments as disparate as inside the human body and in space.

Scientists and engineers from top space organizations in Europe, Canada, and the United States will share the stage in a Tuesday evening panel discussion on MEMS for space applications. They’ll explore the advantages, challenges, and possibilities -- with reference no doubt to a joint session earlier in the day among three MOEMS-MEMS conferences with papers on possible space applications in telescopes, gyros, spectrometers, and other devices.

Among papers on research in spectroscopy are a presentation in the conference on Optical Biopsy exploring Stokes shift spectroscopy for discriminating between normal and diseased prostate tissues (7985-17), and another proposing a new model for the chemical evolution of life (7985-33) on Earth in which a composite hybrid of heterotrophs and autotrophs, rather than heterotrohps, formed functional cells in the chemical soup.

Just a few more days -- sessions start Saturday morning. Hope to see you at Moscone!

14 January 2011

Green energy, automobile safety, human health: a few of the topics at Photonics West

Are you headed for SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco later this month? Have you sorted out which papers you want to hear -- from among the 4,127 on the program?

If you’d like a much shorter list to consider, here are some ideas we collected from conference chairs and others who have studied the program.

While these technologies cover the full range of the four-symposium event, they are representative of all 4,000 papers in their focus on solving the challenges facing the world: They offer promise for detecting cancer in time to enable a cure, restoring vision, detecting clandestine nuclear weapons, enhancing automobile safety, improving both energy efficiency and human health with solid-state lighting, and much more.


7885-23 “OCT-guided femtosecond laser system for cataract surgery,” Daniel Palanker (Stanford Univ. School of Medicine), et al. A new technique using a femtosecond laser to break up damaged lenses before removal can make cataract surgery easier and more precise.

7901-43 “Kinetics and pathogenesis of intracellular iron-oxide nanoparticle hyperthermia,” Andrew Giustini (Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Ctr.), et al. Per conference chair Thomas Ryan, “Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are currently the most commonly used cancer therapies, although thermal treatment in medicine began about 40 years ago. The challenge with heating is to target the heat to individual cells (e.g., cancer cells), thus potentially sparing associated normal cells in the surrounding areas. Magnetic nanoparticles are used such that they accumulate within the interior of cancer cells. Once the nanoparticles are activated in the tumor cells, the heat from the nanoparticles will eliminate the cancer cell through thermal therapy.”

7907-24 “Optical screening for lung cancer using epithelial cells obtained from buccal mucosa (cheek cells),” Hariharan Subramanian (Northwestern Univ.), et al.  Conference chair Adam Wax noted that this paper describes “an extremely promising result that points the way to being able to detect the presence of lung cancer with a simple scraping of cells from the inside of the cheek. The potential for this approach to change detection of lung cancer, and thus save lives, is tremendous.”


7913-26 “Octave spanning frequency combs from microresonators,” Tobias Kippengerg (Max-Planck-Institute für Quantenoptik). The discovery of a method for coupling photons and mechanical vibrations to control and modulate the flow of light could have numerous applications in telecommunications and quantum information technologies.

7916-6 “MEGa-rays: the dawn of nuclear photonics with laser-based gamma-rays,” Christopher Barty, (Lawrence Livermore National Lab). The optimized interaction of short duration, intense laser pulses with high-charge bunches of relativistic electrons can efficiently produce mono-energetic gamma-rays (MEGa-rays) of unprecedented peak brilliance. At 2 MeV, MEGa-ray sources currently under development at LLNL will exceed the peak brilliance of the world's largest synchrotrons by more than 15 orders of magnitude. This revolutionary jump in brilliance enables "nuclear photonics", i.e., the isotope-specific interaction of the photon with the nucleus of the atom. New solutions to an astonishingly wide variety of critical and near-term national nuclear problems such as high-confidence detection of clandestine nuclear weapons material and precision, non-invasive assay of spent nuclear fuel assemblies are possible.

7950-13 “Measuring the orbital angular momentum of light,” Miles Padgett (Univ. of Glasgow), et al. What conference chair David Andrews called “a groundbreaking and potentially very important paper” describes a new simple optical system for the highly efficient sorting of orbital angular momentum states. The system uses an image reformatter to map each input state onto a different lateral position in the output aperture. This near-perfect, separation of states potentially makes available the high information capacity of OAM in both classical and quantum applications.


7930-13 “MEMS-scanned laser head-up display, Mark Freeman (Microvision). Head-up displays (HUD) in automobiles have been shown to significantly reduce accident rates by keeping the driver's eyes on the road. Scanned laser display technology is particularly well-suited to this application since the lasers can be very efficiently relayed to the driver's eyes. Additionally, the lasers are only turned on where the light is needed in the image. This helps to provide the required brightness while minimizing power and avoiding a background glow that disturbs the see-through experience.

7932-11 “Non-contact 3D fingerprint scanner using structured light illumination,” Mike Troy (Flashscan3D) et al. As crime prevention and national security remain a top priority, requirements for the use of fingerprints for identification continue to grow. As the size of fingerprint databases continues to expand, new technologies that can improve accuracy and ultimately matching rates will become more critical to maintain the effectiveness of the systems. A non-contact fingerprint scanner based on the principles of structured light illumination captures 3D data of fingerprints quickly, accurately, and independently of an operator.


7933-3 “Hot carrier solar cells: the ultimate photovoltaic conversion in practice,” Jean-Francois Guillemoles (Institut de Recherche et Développement sur l'Energie Photovoltaïque). Hot carrier solar cells (HCSC) provide an attractive solution to overtake the intrinsic efficiency limit for solar cells. By converting with improved efficiency the high energy range of the solar spectrum into electric power, they may allow conversion efficiencies above 50%, exceeding the single junction limit. Models have been proposed for ideal cells, where all losses are neglected. This papers reports on a model for a more realistic device including carrier extraction, carrier thermalization, and absorptivity losses, and compares the model to experimental data obtained on test epitaxial structures.

7939-28 “Power electronics for hybrid and all electronic automobiles,” Tetsu Kachi (Toyota Central Research and Development Labs). Power control circuits play important roles in hybrid and electric vehicles. Higher performance power devices are needed to improve efficiency and system cost, and new devices being developed are suitable for automotive applications.

7954-1 “Energy-efficient lighting for the human biological clock,” Dieter Lang (OSRAM) -- part of the LEDs conference special session on Light and Health: Human Factors for SSL. Noted conference chair Li-Wei Tu, “The advancing technologies of tunable LEDs enable the power of smart lighting solutions for energy efficiency while being biologically effective.”

7957-10 “Color holography for museums: bringing the artifacts back to the people,” Hans Bjelkhagen (Glyndwr Univ.), et al. “This is the first time museums have arranged an exhibition using the new super-realistic color holograms recorded in nano-structured recording materials, to display artifacts instead of using the real objects,” Bjelkhagen said. “The images are so real that it is not possible to see the difference between the artifact itself and the image of it.” Representative holograms will be on display during the presentation.

What presentations are you planning to see at Photonics West?

11 January 2011

Help design the future of photonics funding ... and make "photonics" a household word

As pervasive and vital as photonics technologies are in industry, healthcare, communications, entertainment, and elsewhere in modern life, the term “photonics” is not exactly a household word.

More to the point, it is not a term that is immediately understood in many houses of government, where decisions are made about which research, innovation, and education programs to fund and how richly to fund them.

Yet, programs benefit more when policy makers and budget writers understand the importance of the technologies and the scope of the industry.

Information about the size of the photonics industry and the influence of photonics science, in the form of comprehensive national and regional reports, has been a powerful tool for helping to communicate with governments about the importance of photonics funding.

In the past few years, reports have surveyed industry activity, market trends, and opportunities regionally in the European Union and in Asia, while additional reports focus on Canada, Sweden, Germany, Scotland, Japan, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and other areas.

Universally, these studies illustrate the potential of photonics to solve many challenges faced around the world -- developing economical green energy, managing healthcare costs and quality, ensuring security in cyberspace, and much more.

Published in 1998, the current United States report, Harnessing Light, is in need of updating. As useful as it has been, enormous progress has been made during the past 12 years in photonics sciences and technologies.

This month, the U.S. National Academies, through its operating arm, the National Research Council, and SPIE are offering an opportunity for in-person comment on the updating the Harnessing Light study.

Erik Svedberg, Senior Program Officer with the National Academies, and SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs will moderate a panel on "The Future of Photonics," on 27 January, 8:45 to 9:30 a.m., at Moscone Center in San Francisco during SPIE Photonics West. There is no charge to attend, but participants must obtain entry badges at the Photonics West registration desk. More information about the Harnessing Light forum is available online.

So here’s your chance. Help design the future, and maybe even make “photonics” a household word.

And in the meantime, get inspired by the words of Charles Townes, Mike Dunne, Kumar Patel, Margaret Murnane, and other industry and research leaders who are using photonics to shape the future:

04 January 2011

Absent from Photonics West -- but present for babies in Vietnam

Rox Anderson, who for many years has partnered with Jim Fujimoto of MIT as Co-Chair of the Biomedical Optics Symposium at SPIE Photonics West, won’t be in San Francisco for the event later this month.

Instead, this year Rox will be in Vietnam, putting to good use his teaching skills as well as laser medicine technology developed with the contributions of SPIE members and others.

Working as the Vascular Anomalies Center, Rox and other volunteers have opened a free clinic in Vietnam. There, babies receive laser treatments for treatment of vascular birth defects -- disfiguring pigmented lesions.

By eliminating this source of physical dysfunction, social stigma, and isolation, the lives of these children have been dramatically changed. The center has treated more than 500 children since 2009.

In past years Rox has been able to schedule his job at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard School of Medicine and his work at the VAC so that he can also attend Photonics West. But this year, he is training a Vietnamese physician who will take over full-time next summer to run the clinic.

“It has been quite an effort,” Rox said. “U.S. and European laser companies have donated a lot of equipment, doctors and nurses have volunteered their time, and we have raised enough support that the operation will become self-sustaining in 2011.”

The VAC is a collaborative effort of the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Wellman Center for Photomedicine and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA: and  Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA. Learn more at the center’s website:

And hear more about laser applications in medicine from Rox in a video interview:

03 January 2011

Make a difference for photonics: tell your story

Have you ever tried to explain your research to a non-scientist, and how the results could make a difference in everyday life?

Ted Maiman had that challenge 50 years ago with his ruby laser. The first successful demonstration of the now-ubiquitous technology was labeled at the time as “a solution in search of a problem.”

That characterization is profoundly ironic, these days. It is a rare person indeed who can go through even part of a day without using something that is either made by, run by, or otherwise touched by laser technology.

The point is, what is obvious to the scientist may not be so to others. Being able to explain the value of research to the non-scientist may require some imagination. But it is increasingly important for the future of R&D funding. Budgets everywhere are being tightened, and competition for available money is keen.

Some non-scientists are policy makers tasked with recommending how much money to invest in research or innovation programs, and what type of science to support.

Some of them are science writers for mainstream media, and some are their readers.

All of them potentially are voters, who might lend science their support if they understood it better, and many of them are students -- the future workforce -- looking for careers that will enable them to help make the world a better place.

The SPIE leadership, volunteers, and staff involved with activities celebrating the 50th anniversary of the laser last year have had a great time telling whoever will listen about the importance of that technology.

We followed a time-tested formula:

·         Engage the emotions.
·         Tell a story.
·         Offer a hands-on experience.
·         Show the relevance -- how can the technology be applied?

We started with fun: acrobats and a laser magician at the Cirque du Lasaire reception at Photonics West in San Francisco.

More importantly, we told dozens of stories, many via display panels paying tribute to numerous laser scientists and innovators. The panels have been shown at more than 50 conferences and other venues around the world, and in five languages.

More than 40 laser luminaries working in the field have told their own stories, in video interviews that are available on SPIE.TV and YouTube.

Hands-on learning has been enabled by dozens of outreach grants to student chapters and other volunteers around the world. Altogether, these optics and photonics researchers and developers have trained many thousands of students, including teachers who will go on to share their knowledge with others.

What potential does your work have to improve quality of life, enable sustainable energy, offer better security, or treat disease? Tell that story -- often. If you can, show how it works -- the simpler, the better, like demonstrating coherence with a laser pointer and a couple of mirrors.

You really don’t need acrobats or magic tricks, just enthusiasm; and you already have the story. A better understanding of science among non-scientists can be only good for the future of science R&D and for the future of life on the planet. Help that along by talking about your work.

Here's an archival interview with Ted Maiman, telling his story: