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26 January 2015

Photo Contest winners celebrate International Year of Light

When SPIE Professional magazine invited submissions to the SPIE International Year of Light Photo Contest last summer, organizers had no idea what to expect. They asked amateur and professional photographers to celebrate the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies by submitting photographs depicting light and light-based technologies in everyday life.

Would the judges have to sift through dozens and dozens of rainbow and sunset pictures? Selfies? Would optics and photonics researchers send images of their laser experiments or retinal scans? Perhaps the astrophotography community would want the world to see their latest scientific images from far out in the solar system?

When contest submissions closed at the end of September, organizers and judges were blown away by the creativity, artistry, diversity and thoughtfulness of photographers from all over the world. There were a fair number of rainbows, sunsets, shadow scenes, and naturally occurring optical phenomena among the nearly 800 photographs submitted. And hundreds of other gorgeous photos showing solar panels, LEDs, lasers, medical procedures and other ways that light plays a central and daily role in linking cultural, economic, and political aspects of global society.

There was only one selfie, and it depicts so much light-based technology that it was selected as a finalist for the People's Choice Award.

The winner of the photo contest is Paul Reiffer, a UK professional photographer currently based in Asia. He titled his photo (above) "Over the Rainbow," but it actually is a 2013 New Year's Eve scene of the three-layered elevated ramp to the Nanpu Bridge in Shanghai. Shot from a building rooftop, the photo shows a dazzling display of colorful LED lights long after the sun had set. Reiffer used a long exposure (35 seconds) on his camera to capture the light moving with the traffic on the bridge.

The second-place prize was awarded to Susanta Mukherjee, an electric welder from Bengal, India, who has dreamed for years of becoming a photographer. "For over 1.5 billion people around the world, night time means either darkness or poor lighting," Mukherjee says. Mukherjee traveled to Sundarban, India, in March 2014 where a non-government organization called ARCHI invited him to photograph a large group of children who had just received solar-powered LED study lights from One Child One Light, another NGO working to help rural residents without access to electricity. Mukherjee captioned his photograph (above) "Joy of Light."

The third-place winner is Ian Bell, a photography and business major at Montana State University (USA) who submitted his prize-winning photo as part of his senior project just days after he was notified of his award. Bell also photographed LED lighting, a revolutionary technology that was central to the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics and that has delivered safety, security, health and productivity to citizens all over the world. In Bell's photo (above), an athlete on a stand-up paddle board uses the LEDs attached to his paddle to "paint" with light on still water after sunset off Lopez Island, Wash.

Judges for the photo contest included SPIE Student Chapter leaders, art students, and an executive panel that selected the top three from a group of 35 finalists for prizes. The remaining 32 images will be eligible for the People's Choice Award later this year.

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs says he was "impressed by the quality, variety, and large number of submissions."

Not only do the top three photos highlight the diversity of applications for LEDs, but the people who took these photographs are also representative of the diverse people of the world celebrating this International Year of Light and light-based Technologies.

Stunning images .... Beautiful use of an optics and photonics technology in daily life ....

Photonics, indeed, does make for a better world.

14 January 2015

Hot technologies at CES are powered by photonics

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which kicks off each year in Las Vegas and did so again last week, is a mega-event that identifies trends and gives some of the biggest gurus in technology a platform. The mainstream media covers it all with gusto. Of course the tech media is all over it too, with everything from product specs to analysis of tweets to see who the biggest “influencers” are.

The good thing about CES is that there is something for everyone – but that’s also the bad thing. Significant developments or important new products might just be overshadowed by something with a bigger flash, but possibly not much substance. And there’s also the paradox of constant monitoring. As Junko Yoshida says in EE Times: “While consumers see the Orwellian implications of constant monitoring, they can’t resist the temptations to see or hear things that wouldn’t be on the radar without embedded cameras or microphones.”

Of course photonics plays a big role in just about everything touted at CES. LEDs were big again this year, as were wearables, drones, and smart cars. Our colleagues at optics.org highlighted some of the automotive photonics-enabled bling – from Ford, BMW, and Volkswagen. Their article on sensors and wearables included optical pulse oximeters, live thermal imagery and gesture-sensing 3D cameras for controlling devices. They covered the emergence of quantum-dot-enhanced TVs as well.

Some of this stuff does indeed improve our world – anything that makes driving safer, our health more easily monitored, or energy more efficient is great. But really, the exciting developments and the ones with the most potential for improving the lives of millions are probably not likely to be hyped in Las Vegas. A quick test for the dengue virus could impact a half billion people. LEDs can replace kerosene for lighting and let children study after dark. That’s what the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies is intended to highlight.

The lives we save and the minds we develop with photonics will be able to grow and learn – and maybe in 20 years, they’ll be in Las Vegas for CES showing us the future generations of photonics-enabled miracles.