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!