30 July 2012

Going green: Asian directions for photonics

Governments in Asia, Europe, North America, and elsewhere are finding new ways to prioritize their efforts to support optics technologies and industries and to advance their own national competitiveness and economic success.

A recent article in the SPIE Professional magazine surveyed the latest developments around the world. This post shares some of the magazine's report on what is happening in Asia, where a major focus is on efficient energy. Future posts will focus on Europe and North America.

Asian governments have taken varied approaches in their support of optics and photonics industries.

Last year, the Chinese government announced the 12th iteration of its Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development. The plan, which runs through 2015, includes a focus on the economic value of seven “strategic emerging industries.” Recent reports have estimated that the Chinese government will spend $1.5 trillion US on subsidies in the fields of biotechnology, new energy, high-end equipment manufacturing, energy conservation and environmental protection, clean-energy vehicles, new materials, and next-generation IT.

The government support includes tax incentives and price subsidies for the solar energy industry in China. Additionally, the government has pledged to spend from 1.75% to 2.2% of its GDP on research and development and work toward increasing the number of patents to 3.3 per every 10,000 persons by 2015. This anticipated increase would double the number approved in 2010.

Taiwan has created three core science parks designed to be magnets for high-tech industries. The parks combine research, production, work, and recreational facilities and have helped Taiwan maintain its competitive research advantage, especially with LCD panels, LEDs, and photovoltaic systems.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010, Taiwan ranked sixth among 133 economies worldwide in the “state of cluster development” index.

The first park, Hsinchu Science Park, was created in 1980, followed by two more in 1996 and 2003. Eight more are slated for construction. With $2.53 billion US invested in Hsinchu Park by the Taiwanese government since its creation, a total of 440 companies are operating within the park, employing 132,161 persons by the end of 2009. Nearly $27 billion US was generated that year by its companies.

18 July 2012

Irony of eco-metamaterials

Eco-metamaterials engineered by optics and photonics researchers can lighten our environmental footprint and just may be -- ironically -- more sustainable than materials found in nature.

So say Nerac analysts Rosemarie Szostak and Michael Kapralos in their article in the July 2012 issue of SPIE Professional magazine.

Metamaterials combine micro or nano structural features instead of relying on composition alone to achieve the desired properties. They have sparked the imagination of the optics and photonics community with their unusual characteristics, and researchers are developing unique metamaterials for their potential as invisibility cloaks, high-efficiency photovoltaics, super-antennas, and ultrabright LEDs.

Eco-metamaterials may not yet be "green" based on their composition. However, the reduced quantities of materials, especially toxic ones, used in their development and metamaterials’ inherent potential for exotic properties allow technologists to improve outcomes well beyond what is found in nature.

The Nerac analysts discuss how developers are "right sizing" their products with metamaterials and taking advantage of metamaterials' inherently small sizes. 

One potentially sustainable advancement in metamaterials that they discuss is with lasers. "The ability to tailor structure and locate elements in precise arrangements in metamaterials may lie in the exactness afforded by laser technology," they say.

Bolstered by research done at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States, the National Institute for Laser, Plasma and Radiation Physics in Romania, and labs elsewhere, lasers have been shown to be effective in depositing thin films of elements, creating nanostructures efficiently.

Since lasing usually exacts a high energy cost, laser researchers are now pushing the scale of lasers to new lows (nano) while maintaining or improving power. At University of California, San Diego, California, for instance, lasers are being downsized so that they require very little power to operate. The small size and extremely low power of these nanolasers have the potential to revolutionize future optical circuits and allow metamaterial manufacturers to produce better, cheaper, and smaller energy-footprint components, a much more sustainable manufacturing process.

The SPIE Professional article also discusses work conducted at ARPA-E (the U.S. Department of Energy's innovation arm) on constructing nanomagnet assemblages with soft and hard magnetic components that use less neodymium, or none at all, yet maintain the strength and permanence of a traditional neo-magnet.

Metamaterials conference in San Diego

Metamaterials will be the subject of a symposium-wide plenary talk and a full conference at SPIE Optics and Photonics, 12-16 August in San Diego. Nearly 100 technical presentations are scheduled for the Metamaterials: Fundamentals and Applications conference within the NanoScience and Engineering symposium.

SPIE Fellow Allan Boardman of University of Salford will chair the conference, which will cover nanoantennas, cloaking, and related topics such as:
  • Nonlinear metamaterials
  • Plasmonic metamaterials
  • Magnetic metamaterials
  • Metamaterial absorbers
  • Chiral metamaterials
  • Active and tunable metamaterials
At the symposium-wide plenary session on 12 August, Vladimir Shalaev, scientific director for nanophotonics at Purdue University, will review this growing field in a talk titled “The Exciting Science of Light with Metamaterials.” Shalaev, an SPIE Fellow, will also discuss recent developments in such areas as tunable metamaterials, artificial optical magnetism, and nanolasers.

17 July 2012

Astronomy: the ‘gateway’ field of optics and photonics

There are many good reasons to help the next generation become interested in science. They are the future, after all; the authors and architects of whatever progress and solutions the human race will attain during their time on the planet. To meet that challenge, they will need the best knowledge and tools available.

Plus … understanding how the world works is not only useful, but fun.

One of the most accessible pathways to an interest in science is astronomy.

Speakers at the recent gathering in Amsterdam of the world’s astronomical telescopes and instrumentation community were very persuasive on that point, starting with the very first talk.

“The tangible mystery of space” has inspired humankind from our earliest times, noted Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in the event’s opening plenary session.

"High-profile astronomy missions inspire kids in elementary school to become the scientists of the future,” she asserted. “This doesn't necessarily mean that they end up working in astronomy. They might work on carbon nanotubes or solar panels, but astronomy can serve as a 'first love' of scientific research and discovery."

Hammel’s talk -- an update on the James Webb Space Telescope -- was one of many reports at the meeting on current and future space missions, and their instrumentation and project management. Other speakers echoed Hammel’s observation that while projects such as the James Webb are important for research, they also contribute to the greater human inspiration to pursue scientific investigation.

Another powerful hook that astronomy offers is the ability and in fact growing trend for citizen scientists to participate with professional researchers in real research, noted another speaker at the conference.

Sarah Kendrew of the Max Planck Institute pointed out that citizen science projects such as Zooniverse enable the processing of the incredible amounts of data now being produced by the multitude of ground- and space-based projects looking into the universe.

They also are responsible for some significant discoveries. Probably the most famous example is Hanny's Voorwerp, an astronomical object of unknown nature discovered by Dutch schoolteacher Hanny van Arkel while she was participating as an amateur volunteer in the Galaxy Zoo project in 2007.

Hanny's Voorwerp. Credit: NASA, ESA, W. Keel (Univ. of Alabama), et al., Galaxy Zoo Team.

In astronomy blogs and other web-based platforms, there is no social hierarchy, and people are not identified by age, gender, geographic location, or educational level, Kendrew said. This allows for a huge amount of human brain power to be focused on specific projects, harvesting the collective energy for greater levels of discovery.

Imagine, as Kendrew does, the power to acquire new knowledge and create a better world that could come from applying that collective energy in all fields. What a compelling argument for supporting STEM education in schools as well as your own backyard!

04 July 2012

Biophotonics: Solutions for world's health needs

(SPIE Member Jijo Ulahannan, assistant professor at Government College Kasaragod in India, attended the biophotonics and imaging graduate summer school earlier this month at the National University of Ireland [NUI] Galway. Speakers composed a “who’s who” list of many of the top names in the field. Now back at home, Jijo filed this guest blog based on his notes.)

A week of high-end motivation, face-to-face interaction with challenging problems of the field, infused with the serene beauty of Irish countryside and the fun and excitement of Euro 2012: that’s the best way to summarize the recently concluded Biophotonics and Imaging Graduate Summer School (BIGSS) 2012. The school was attended by 22 researchers from all over the world and included highly motivating talks, technical presentations, live demonstrations and a highly competitive poster session.

The summer school began on a fine sunny evening with a welcome party hosted by Professor Martin Leahy who heads the National Biophotonics Platform of Ireland.

The very next day ideas started to rain in with the sessions on Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), starting with the review presentation of Professor Wolfgang Drexler. We were taken through the world of medical imaging, diagnosis and therapy mostly tackled by hybrid techniques rather than one single method. Advantages of OCT, various challenges faced by researchers were discussed thoroughly during this highly engaging talk.

The school had an excellent outing in the afternoon to have a city and coastal tour of Galway.

The evening session began with further deliberations on the topic by Professor Vasilis Ntziachristos who led the participants to the details of multispectral optical and opto-acoustic imaging.

The second day of the school had Professor Michael Kolios who took the participants to the world of the emerging field of photoacoustics that often supplements OCT, which is now a mature field of biophotonics. Professor Kolios gave the key idea that it is mostly the ultrasound principles applied to optical regime for detection and diagnosis. The presentation touched upon the scientific, technological and clinical aspects of the fields.

An excellent presentation on in vivo photoacoustic flow cytometry by Professor Vladimir Zharov engaged the participants in the afternoon. Professor Zharov aptly presented the challenge faced by his team as well as anyone else in the field would: “listening to one cell in a million.” This was the first session on the laser optoacoustic spectroscopy that again is a mature diagnostic and therapeutic field today. The research in the field includes several clinical trials, optical therapy that nowadays use nanoparticles for drug delivery and cell destruction

The fourth day brought Professor Gabriel Popescu speaking on quantitative phase imaging of cells and tissues, giving proper theoretical and experimental details of the imaging technique.

Mike Woerdemann finished the day with an excellent overview of optical tweezers and their applications, another area of recent interest in the field.

The day’s proceedings ended when all the faculty and students enjoyed the live action of a Euro 2012 match at the university.
Summer school attendees take in a Euro 2012 match.
The penultimate day of the school featured professors Anita Mahadevan-Jansen and Tayyaba Hasan.

Professor Mahadevan-Jansen led the school to the complex world of medical diagnosis, application-oriented research, optimization and proper choice of technology used in biophotonics research. Her approach was unique in the sense that it demanded the teamwork and participation every one of us to find solutions to current and potential problems faced by researchers in the field. She presented real-world problems and provoked our intelligence to come out with real-world issues that need amicable solutions.

Professor Hasan focused on the world of photodynamic therapy that delivers improved treatment to diseases such as cancer.
Professor Tayyaba Hasan presents on photodynamic therapy for cancer treatment.
The final day of the school began with a session on commercialization of research by Hugh Cormican who talked about entrepreneurship and ways to pursue if someone needs to convert research into products.

Olympus demonstrated their state-of-the-art confocal microscope system that can sit on a tabletop and deliver manuscript-ready research data.

It was time for the graduation ceremony thereafter, and all the participants received a wonderful NUI Galway certificate.

Poster awards were announced next. Setareh Ghorbanian of University of Toronto won the first prize sponsored by Mason Tech. Consolation prizes were secured by Kellie Adamson of Dublin City University, Davide Volpi of the University of Oxford and Christine O’Brien of Vanderbilt University.

Poster competition winners are congratulated by event organizers.
A grand closing ceremony followed, after which the entire school travelled to the majestic Bunratty Castle near Shannon for a medieval dinner and a stroll in their folk park. A fruitful week of learning and networking came to an end when all the participants left Galway cherishing the great hospitality of the hosting team of Professor Martin and the entire TOMI team.
Performers entertain in traditional costume at Bunratty Castle.