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

21 April 2011

Photonics as you'll see it nowhere else

“Multidisciplinary” is a word heard often in photonics circles. It has become increasingly apt at SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing (DSS), where, in the words of Michael Eismann (Air Force Research Lab), last year’s symposium chair, you’ll see things that you won’t find anywhere else. Just a few examples -- from among 2,400 papers in the program -- illustrate the span across not only several disciplines but varied application areas as well.

Cancer and brain trauma

From the growing body of presentations at DSS on biomedicine and sensing technologies with health applications is a paper by Krzysztof Ptak (U.S. National Cancer Institute Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives) on nanotechnology as a “new pipeline” for cancer diagnostics, imaging agents, and therapies (8031-63).

“The National Cancer Institute has taken the bold and visionary step of recognizing that it takes a multidisciplinary approach allowing for a convergence of molecular biology, oncology, physics, chemistry, and engineering leading to the development of clinically worthy technological solutions for the most important medical challenge of our time, namely the conquest of cancer,” said Conference Chair Tom George (Zyomed Corp.).

George pointed out that the future applications of micro- and nanotechnology research are “essentially limitless” and applicable in aerospace, transportation, sports, entertainment, and agriculture, as well as medicine.

Another paper (8029A-21), by Edward Dixon (University of Pittsburgh), looks at biomarkers for more sensitive, portable, and rapid diagnostics, prognostics, and therapeutic monitoring of traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI produced by repeated exposure to mild blasts is a signature injury of current wars, Dixon notes, and mild TBI produces subtle cognitive deficits that are difficult to detect and quantify.

Explosives and greenhouse gases

In the realm of lasers, Richard Miles, Arthur Dogariu, and James Michael (Princeton University) will present a paper (8024-16) on air lasing to detect trace particles in identifying buried explosives along a roadway, or airborne pollutants, and greenhouse gases. The work is the first demonstration of a practical air laser, Miles said. The process involves resonant two-photon dissociation of molecular oxygen and simultaneous resonant two-photon pumping of an atomic oxygen fragment.

Lasers at work

A paper by Jordin Kare and Tom Nugent (LaserMotive) (8045-40) will explain their work in developing laser power beaming systems to transmit electricity without wires, for application where wires are either cost-prohibitive or physically impossible. (See the article “Beam it up” published 10 March in The Economist for more on their work; view a video interview from the SPIE Newsroom below.)



Monitoring the oceans

A joint session on between conferences on Oil Sensing and Monitoring (8030) and Sensing for Global Health, Military Medicine, Disaster Response, and Environmental Monitoring is devoted to papers on sensing technologies used for tracking the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that began 20 April 2010.

"The session will highlight the coordinated efforts and responses of the meteorological and oceanographic community to describe the oceanographic impact of oil in the Gulf," said Weilin (Will) Hou (U.S. Naval Research Lab). Papers will examine assets used for monitoring which include remote sensing, in situ observations and models, and describe capabilities for monitoring the ocean processes in the gulf and their utilities for examining the oil spill impacts.

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?