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30 May 2013

The miracle of photonics is taken for granted



You know that signature file you may have – “Sent from my [fabulous device name here]”? Our CEO here at SPIE, Eugene Arthurs, has one that gives credit where credit is due, to photonics: “Multiple laser processes were used to make this iPad. Many photons worked to bring you this message.”

This blog makes the case that photonics can make the world a better place, and who can argue with the convenience and ease that is enabled by these great smartphones and tablets? Yes indeed, there are photons aplenty at work. But the latest column from Mark Morford, creatively infuriating (to some) writer for SFGate, points out that those who get worked up over what’s the latest and greatest, and the absolute best, are just wasting their energy, because tomorrow it will be something else.

It’s reminiscent of the legend of the conquering Roman generals, who were accompanied in their victory parades by a slave to whisper a reminder in their ear: “All glory is fleeting.” Because, as Morford says, “The wow factor of what our consumer tech can do is now so routinely high, so commonplace, we look right past the fact we’re no longer heading toward a truly miraculous tech age; we’re already there.”

He talks about the megapixel wars: “Digital photography has been completely adequate for most consumers since about megapixel number three” as well as endless geeky debates about operating systems, apps and whatnot. He makes a great point…we take it for granted. “We all have access to everyday tech so advanced, it is indistinguishable from magic.”

So it’s a good time to take a breath and acknowledge what makes a lot of that everyday tech GO…optics and photonics. And in the interests of raising awareness, keeping the industry strong, and generating more interest in science among students, we have the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), unveiled just last week. SPIE is a cosponsor. Think about how you can contribute. How can you share what you do with people who don’t appreciate its value? Convince a politician to continue/increase science funding? Help in the schools to raise the profile of science in the curriculum? There are lots of ways. Stay tuned to the latest news from the NPI.

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