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21 April 2014

Life in the fast lane for photonics!

Backers of an initiative to raise awareness of the field of photonics and the many contributions photonics technologies and applications make to a stronger economy as well as quality of life have new reason to celebrate.

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Last week, the Committee on Science of the the National Science and Technology Council nudged photonics toward the fast track, with the release on Thursday of a report by its Fast-Track Action Committee on Optics and Photonics (FTAC-OP).

In a report titled "Building a Brighter Future with Optics and Photonics,” the FTAC-OP presented a prioritized list of seven recommendations for research opportunities and research-related capabilities. The list aligns with and supports recommendations of the 2013 National Research Council Report Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for our Nation, addressing important needs from new methods for stopping disease, to more jobs that strengthen the economy, to expanded national manufacturing through homegrown R&D, to more effective security and defense systems.

The report notes that support for its recommendations will accelerate basic research progress and applications in optics and photonics.

We think so, too, and join in the photonics community's applause for the FTAC-OP for identifying some powerful strategies to advance the ability of photonics to change lives for the better and contribute to economic competitiveness for the nation.

The FTAC-OP’s prioritized list of recommendations includes:

Research Opportunities
  • (A1) Biophotonics to Advance Understanding of Systems Biology and Disease Progression. Support fundamental research in innovative biophotonics to enable advances in quantitative imaging; systems biology, medicine, and neuroscience; in vivo validation of biomarkers that advance medical diagnostics, prevention, and treatment; and more efficient agricultural production.
  • (A2) From Faint to Single Photonics. Develop optics and photonics technologies that operate at the faintest light levels.
  • (A3) Imaging Through Complex Media. Advance the science of light propagation and imaging through scattering, dispersive, and turbulent media.
  • (A4) Ultra-Low-Power Nano-Optoelectronics. Explore the limits of low energy, attojoule-level photonic devices for application to information processing and communications.

Capability Opportunities
  • (B1) Accessible Fabrication Facilities for Researchers. Determine the need of academic researchers and small business innovators for access to affordable domestic fabrication capabilities to advance the research, development, manufacture, and assembly of complex integrated photonic-electronic devices.
  • (B2) Exotic Photonics. Promote research and development to make compact, user-friendly light sources, detectors, and associated optics at exotic wavelengths accessible to academia, national laboratories, and industry.
  • (B3) Domestic Sources for Critical Photonic Materials. Develop and make available optical and photonic materials critical to our Nation’s research programs, such as infrared materials, nonlinear materials, low-dimensional materials, and engineered materials.

The National Photonics Initiative is an industry-driven campaign to guide photonics research and funding, and resulted from last year’s Essential Technologies report from the NRC. SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, is among the Founding Sponsors in a coalition of scientific societies helping to lead the initiative. The goals of the NPI are to:
  • raise awareness of photonics and the impact of photonics on our everyday lives
  • increase cooperation and coordination among US industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields
  • drive U.S. funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

Read the FTAC-OP report -- and keep doing your part to raise the visibility of the powerful enabling technology of photonics! Find out more at www.LightOurFuture.org.

04 April 2014

Brain-mapping milestone -- with photonics, of course!

For 10 years since its founding, the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle has been working toward a greater understanding of the brain, "inspired by the quest to uncover the essence of what makes us human," according to its website. It's a timely quest, given the "big neuroscience" efforts around the world -- including the Human Brain Project in Europe and the BRAIN Initiative in the United States.

SPIE Newsroom video interview with Michael Hawrylycz
People are working on many fronts to learn about the brain and treat its injuries and disorders. Photonics is a key tool in this effort. A recent SPIE Newsroom visit to the institute resulted in this video interview with Michael Hawrylycz, an investigator and director of the Modeling, Analysis, and Theory Group.

If you haven't seen the video, it's worth a look in light of the publication, on the one-year anniversary of President Obama's announcement of the BRAIN Initiative, of two papers in Nature reporting on significant milestones -- brain maps. Hawrylycz describes the brain map and the photonic tools used to develop it.

The papers highlight the Allen Institute's groundbreaking work to produce and share the BrainSpan Atlas of the Developing Human Brain prenatal data, and the Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas.

Understanding what makes humans unique involves deciphering a complex puzzle -- one that begins during the earliest phases of development. The richness of the BrainSpan Atlas gives scientists a new set of tools to assess how the human brain develops compared to other species. It's a detailed map of where different genes are turned on and off during mid-pregnancy at unprecedented anatomical resolution. The BrainSpan Atlas enables researchers around the world to conduct research and ask questions about the early human brain that many would not be able to do otherwise.

The mouse brain’s 75 million neurons, arranged in a roughly similar structure to the human brain, provide a powerful model system by which to understand how nerve cells of the human brain connect, process and encode information. Scientists at the Allen Institute set out to create a wiring diagram of the brain -- also known as a “connectome” -- to illustrate short and long-range connections using genetically-engineered viruses that could trace and illuminate individual neurons.

In order to get a truly comprehensive view, scientists collected imaging data at resolutions smaller than a micrometer from more than 1,700 mouse brains, each of which was divided into 140 serial sections. Publication of this resource opens a world of possibilities for researchers to use this connective roadmap of the brain to make exciting new discoveries, since the data and tools are all publicly available through the Allen Brain Atlas portal.

Congratulations to everyone who played a role in this landmark achievement. We can't wait to see what the next decade brings in brain research.