21 August 2011

Volunteer vacation has a photonics focus

How I spent my summer vacation: volunteering in the tropics.

Three student friends of SPIE Fellow Dr. Carmiña Londoño will have some great stories to tell about their summer break as they go back to school in the next few weeks. They spent a week this summer as volunteers teaching optics and other topics at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

Supported financially by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and the Optical Society of America, and by Kreischer Optics who provided lenses and prisms, Londoño’s group added an optics component to the arts and crafts, sports, language classes, and other activities organized by Orphanage Outreach.

The students -- Lillian, Nora, and Matthew -- also spent part of the week hoeing, weeding, and preparing the orphanage’s gardens for future planting.

For Londoño and Lillian -- her daughter -- this was the second such trip, and part of their tradition of taking a one-week volunteer vacation each summer.

“For reading classes, we used many of the books that Nora and Lillian brought as a gift from their school,” Londoño said. A teacher at the girls’ school had helped organize a bake sale that raised nearly $250 that was used to buy Spanish books for the orphanage.
Carmina Londono tests a kaleidoscope built at optics camp.

“Optics camp” was held Wednesday evening.

“We made a presentation about the human eye, animal vision, rainbows, fiber optics, lasers and cameras’” Londoño said. “We distributed small diffraction gratings, had fun looking at different light sources and optical illusions, and distributed some ‘optics goodies’,” such as the kits for laser targeting and building kaleidoscopes and telescopes, fiber-optic pens, and other items donated by SPIE.

The evening was so successful that Orphanage Outreach Executive Director Tom Eklund challenged Londoño -- Program Director of the Americas Program in the Office of International Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation (NSF) -- to recruit more scientists and engineers for more science camps.

“This is truly a tall order,” said Londoño, who pointed out the trip was a volunteer activity for her, not an NSF program. “I committed to trying to convince four of my friends (who are scientists and engineers) to perhaps go for one week next year. I have already lined up one geologist friend, so I have three more to go.”

Toward the end of the week, they visited a market town on the border with Haiti.

“The Haitians walk across the border to buy supplies from the Dominicans,” Londoño said. “They carry really heavy loads of chickens, eggs, vegetables, clothing, and building supplies on their heads … men, women, children, old people, young people, all working non-stop.

“There was lots of noise, honking, and no room to move. There were many tired faces, faces, strong smells, a sea of human activity with a palpable sense of desperation.

“We volunteers stood out with our colorful Orphanage Outreach T-shirts and our uncomfortable demeanor trying to make sense of what we were seeing and perhaps what we were feeling.”
A memorable moment in a memorable vacation, indeed.


03 August 2011

Seeing the light: LEDs at work in lighting and in wireless networking

Not only does Philips Lighting North America’s 10-watt LED bulb have the potential for saving billions of dollars in U.S. energy consumption and avoiding millions of metric tons of carbon emissions: it’s dimmable as well. 

The bulb has earned the San Jose, California, company the Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) — the L Prize — for a 10-watt replacement for the 60-watt incandescent bulb.

Replacing every 60-watt incandescent bulb in the U.S. with Philips’10-watt LED bulb would save 35 terawatt-hours of electricity or $3.9 billion in one year and avoid 20 million metric tons of carbon emissions, according to the DOE prize announcement (enough electricity to power the lights of nearly 18 million U.S. households, or nearly triple the annual electricity consumption in Washington, D.C.). 

Steve Landau of Philips talks about the prize-winning bulb in this SPIE Newsroom video:




LEDs for wireless, too

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institue for Telecommunications have been working with LEDs as well, looking at transforming energy from LED room lighting into a home wireless network with enough capacity to transmit four HD videos simultaneously to four different laptops.

What other energy-saving uses is LED technology being applied in?

01 August 2011

That green glow from the lab? It's photonics innovation

The recent news from Brussels that the European Commission is proposing to increase research and innovation funding to €80.2 billion for the 2014-2020 budget has a decidedly green tint. Some of the money in the proposal to fund the EU’s newly named Horizon 2020 strategy would be earmarked for energy, and some to make the economy greener and more competitive.

Examples of how photonics -- one of the six Key Enabling Technologies identified by the European Commission -- drives innovation in support of sustainability are everywhere.

As an overview, Steve Eglash (Stanford University and Precourt Institute for Energy) explains in this video just what "green photonics" is, and talks about the integration of disciplines such as psychology, law, business, and physics.



In a keynote paper presented last March at SPIE Eco-Photonics in Strasbourg, Berit Wessler (OSRAM) and Ursula Tober (VDI Technologiezentrum) provided a comprehensive look at the direct environmental benefits from -- for example -- laser-based manufacturing.

Citing examples in solid-state lighting, solar cells, and optical communications as well as in manufacturing, the paper notes that "In addition to the direct eco-benefits derived from the products themselves, green photonics will also impact the product design and manufacturing processes employed."

The full paper, "Green photonics: the role of photonics in sustainable product design," is available via open access in the SPIE Digital Library.

More examples were provided at the Strasbourg meeting by companies including TRUMPF, SCHOTT, Nokia, Daimler, OSRAM, Telecom Paritech, Deutsche telecom and telecom Italia:
  • smart LEDs in automobile engineering, both outside and inside the vehicle
  • ecologically sound glass for lighting
  • diffraction to save energy in smart phone display
  • energy reduction in optical fiber telecom networking.

Later this month,  at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, a special forum on "Green" Materials led by Michael Postek (U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology) and Nora Savage (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) will explore the use of benign materials, innovative reclamation and recycling options, and much more.

For more ideas about what's ahead in the solar arena, the Optics + Photonics program on Solar Energy + Technology will include more than 300 papers advancing photovoltaics, thin films, solar hydrogen, and related fields. As the abstract for a keynote talk on "Green nanotechnology" by Geoffrey Smith (University of Technology, Sydney) shows, photonics has gone green at all levels.

All this green thinking around the globe is very timely. With the economy's growing reliance on photonics and an increasing need for sustainable choices across all areas of life, green photonics innovation is a vital part of the solution to the major challenges facing the world.