22 March 2013

Optics and photonics defense professionals: Opportunity is yours

Kerstin Bailey, the marketing analytics manager for SPIE, has a word of encouragement for optics and photonics professionals working in the defense sector, to counter recent nerve-wracking news about the U.S. budget sequester.

"From the information I see about our community, optics and photonics defense professionals should not be overly worried about long-term employability," she said.

"While these professionals work in defense, we have seen that their interests and backgrounds cover many application areas. Their activity with SPIE indicates a broad knowledge base that is very transferrable," Bailey said.

Examples of technology transfer from the defense sector to commercial use are abundant. Adaptive optics for telescopes are used in opthalmology. Sensing technologies used by the military can ensure food safety and clean water for the general public. The technology that runs the Internet, GPS systems, and microwave ovens has its roots in defense research.

"Couple this knowledge with engineering and design know-how and you have a very marketable employee who is highly sought after in other sectors," Bailey notes.

If you are in an optics and photonics sector that’s experiencing some shakiness, you certainly shouldn’t feel stuck.

According to the SPIE 2012 Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report, employees at military/defense organizations had the highest median compensation at $100,000 per year. Note that people at for-profit companies and self-employed consultants also reported very comparable median wages ($97K and $95K respectively).

Job activity on the SPIE Career Center has shown only a slight weakening of the photonics job market. "In other words," Bailey said, "good jobs are definitely still out there, if you’re interested."

A panel of judges hears a pitch from an aspiring entrepreneur
during the 2013 SPIE Startup Challenge, one opportunity for
new photonics products to win backing. (Photo: Joey Cobbs).
Looking back to the defense spending dip in the early 1990s, SPIE saw a rise of new optics and photonics startup companies. Some were started by entrepreneurs who designed new products in their garages. Others were started by teams funded by venture capital.

Mid-decade, growth in the biomedical optics, optoelectronics, MOEMS-MEMS, and laser technologies represented at Photonics West began a boom which has yet to slow down.

Over time, defense sector spending swung the other way and once again needed more optics and photonics professionals. After all, how many systems can provide efficient, targeted, cost-effective defense without the use of any optics or photonics components?

"Now, I know not everyone is going to jump right into the SPIE Startup Challenge with a fresh idea for a new product," Bailey said. "But if the defense-budget woes are giving you career angst, I encourage you to take a step back and think through your options. Because wherever you go in optics and photonics, opportunities are out there."

21 March 2013

OCT: deeper views, enhanced ability to help

(Image: MIT.)
In a newsletter post today titled "OCT gets deep," Editor Mike Hatcher heralds some important developments for physicians and their patients:

"Optical coherence tomography (OCT) has come a long way since its early development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But there has always been one key limitation of the technique: its inability to image at depths of more than a couple of millimeters.

"But that now looks set to change, thanks to OCT systems based around lasers with tunable, narrow linewidths and long coherence lengths. So whereas physicians currently use OCT to look at just the retina, they could soon be using it to sweep through the entire structure of the eye.

"Clinical development of such systems will inevitably take time, but last week also saw a new OCT system for cardiovascular imaging launched in Japan. In combination with a non-optical technique, the system designed by St. Jude Medical uses OCT to offer heart surgeons an enhanced, three-dimensional view of the coronary arteries of their patients.

Rox Anderson, left, thanks his fellow biomedical optics
professionals for their work in helping meet health challenges,
as he and Jim Fujimoto open the Hot Topics session at SPIE
Photonics West in January 2013. (SPIE photo.)
"That technology has its roots very much in the MIT laboratory of OCT pioneer Jim Fujimoto, after St. Jude acquired the spin-out company LightLab Imaging a couple of years back.

"Now with the ability to image at much greater depths, the application potential of OCT looks set to enter a new dimension."

Rox Anderson of Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, who serves along with Fujimoto as symposium chair of Biomedical Optics at Photonics West, opened this year's Hot Topics session thanking the several hundreds of people in the audience for their work in applying biomedical optics "to help." This latest news is yet another example of that important work.

Want to know more? Hear about OCT applications and funding from Fujimoto, entrepreneur Eric Swanson, and researchers Melissa Suter (Massachusetts General Hospital) and Rainer Leitgeb (Medical University of Vienna) in a brief  brief SPIE Newsroom video.

And check out these presentations from several of this year's Hot Topics speakers:

  • Ernst Bamberg (Max Planck Institute)
  • Ben Potsaid (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Dan Oron (Weizmann Institute of Science)
  • Jonathan Sorger (Intuitive Surgical, Inc)
  • Mathias Fink (Institut ESPCI, CNRS)
  • Joe Culver (Washington Univ. in St. Louis)

  • 07 March 2013

    Pioneers of common laser eye surgery honored

    The Washington Post “Ideas@Innovations” blog recently profiled winners of National Academy of Engineering awards, including Rangaswamy Srinivasan, James J. Wynne, and Samuel E. Blum. All are being recognized for their work in developing what have come to be known as PRK and LASIK corrective eye surgery. They will share the $500,000 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize.

    The Post embedded the 2011 SPIE Advancing the Laser video of Wynne describing how the discovery of surgical applications of the excimer laser developed in 1981. (The highlight is the description of Srinivasan bringing his leftover Thanksgiving turkey carcass to the lab to test the laser on.)

    Wynne, still working for IBM, has more recently developed excimer laser treatments for removing necrotic lesions of the skin.

    See the video