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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.

28 May 2013

Pythons, beetles, and jellyfish: bioinspiration for photonics applications

Ever wondered why a snake doesn’t slide sideways when headed uphill or across a slippery surface? It isn’t just a matter of muscle and motivation.

The python's underbelly scales
and heat-seeking nose are cause
for inspiration in photonics R&D.
The underbelly scales of pythons have hooks that find traction to propel them in the direction they want to go -- a concept that has been applicable in developing mechanical propulsion systems.

The heat-sensitive cells in the python’s nose help him find food; humans can use information about the creature’s nervous system to develop more effective and adaptable thermal sensors with applications from digital medical thermometers to car radiators and much more.

A 35-year-old python named Monty was the latest “animal ambassador” from the San Diego Zoo’s Centre for Bioinspiration to demonstrate to photonics researchers at a recent meeting how they and others can learn from nature to solve the world’s problems.

In addition to Monty’s visit this year, staff from the Centre for Bioinspiration at the San Diego Zoo brought a great horned owl and a caiman for bioinspiration demostrations in recent years to SPIE Smart Structures/NDE in San Diego. Zoo staff will be back in March 2014 with more as part of an ongoing collaboration between SPIE and the San Diego Zoo to promote bioinspired engineering design.

The eyes and vision of great
horned owls such as Shaman have
informed 
the work of optical designers.
Acoustical engineers found inspiration
in the construction of the owl's wings
for reducing the noise of high-speed trains.
Two additional projects reported on at the meeting borrowed inspiration from nature to help save trees and to explore the ocean depths:

A team from Pennsylvania State University is developing decoys to blunt the spread of tree-killing emerald ash borer beetles. Their larvae feed on the sap of ash trees, killing by depriving trees of nourishment. Entomology professor Thomas Baker teamed up with the research group of engineering science and mechanics professor Akhlesh Lakhtakia, who replicate biological structures such as fly eyes and butterfly wings. The groups developed a decoy that visually replicates the female borer, enabling researchers to trap the males to decrease breeding and thereby larvae. (Read the paper via open access in the SPIE Digital Library through 31 July: "Fabrication and testing of artificial emerald ash borer visual decoys.")

Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers have built a man-size, autonomous robotic jellyfish, a larger model of a previous robotic jellyfish built by the same team headed by Shashank Priya, professor of mechanical engineering. Jellyfish are attractive candidates to mimic because of their ability to consume little energy owing to a lower metabolic rate than other marine species, the researchers said. With no central nervous system, jellyfish instead use a diffused nerve net to control movement and can complete complex functions. “A larger vehicle will allow for more payload, longer duration, and longer range of operation,” said Alex Villanueva, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering working under Priya. (Read the paper via open access in the SPIE Digital Library through 31 July: "Modeling and control of a jellyfish-inspired AUV.")
 

17 May 2013

Tomatoes, juicy, delicious and even more nutritious -- thanks to LED lighting

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In the Netherlands, they have been growing food in greenhouses for a long time. Lighting systems have improved production and extended growing seasons -- now they're pumping up the nutrition too.

Research by Wageningen University (Netherlands) Greenhouse Horticulture in collaboration with Philips has shown that tomatoes can be even more nutritious when grown with LED lighting. The partnership will be continued in a joint facility for research into the application of LED lamps in horticulture (IDC LED), which was to be opened in Bleiswijk (NL) this week.

In the tomato variety that showed the strongest reaction, the tomatoes receiving extra light from the LEDs contained up to twice as much vitamin C as the tomatoes not exposed to the LEDs. The doubling of the vitamin C level was achieved with an extra dose of light similar to a quarter of the natural light intensity on a sunny day.

Wageningen University and Research Greenhouse Horticulture performed its research within the framework of the project Gezond uit de Kas (Health from the Greenhouse), financed by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.