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.