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Photonics in solar, 3D, medicine, and more in the year's top stories

Photonics and optics continue to provide amazing new solutions for challenges such as better healthcare, new green energy sources and devices, and more efficient and capable manufacturing processes.

Every week, the SPIE Newsroom publishes several new reports from researchers about their latest work. Here’s a list (with links to the full articles) of just a few of the life-enhancing photonics advances reported this year from around the world.

FIFA live in 3D at the pub and in your living room

For the first time ever, this year’s World Cup audiences were able to watch some of the matches in real-time 3D without having to buy a ticket. The Federation International Football Association worked with Sony and its production partners to deliver two dozen of the 2010 FIFA World Cup matches held in South Africa, and several sports broadcast television stations in Australia, the UK, and the US broadcast matches in 3D as well. Gooooooaaaaal!

Moth’s eye suggests solution for solar and LED reflection

Ordered and disordered nanostructures with broadband antireflection properties can be used in solar cells, LEDs, and transparent glasses, reported researchers at Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology. The broadband and omnidirectional antireflection properties of the moth’s eye inspired the conformation of antireflective nanostructures (ARNSs) with promising uses in high-efficiency optical devices.

New algorithm for IR face recognition

Face recognition is a more natural, intuitive way to identify individuals, compared to other biometric authentication methods such as fingerprints, iris patterns, and voiceprint that generally rely on cooperation of the participants. Thermal IR offers a promising alternative for handling variations in face appearance caused by lighting changes, and facial expressions and poses, reported researchers at Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering. The team showed that IR-based algorithms have the potential to provide simpler and more robust solutions, improving performance in uncontrolled environments and combating deliberate attempts to obscure identity.

Microfluidics streamlines laboratory operations

Reducing the cost is expected to trigger a boom in lab-on-a-chip technology, and reusable or disposable paper chips may hold the key. Lab-on-a-chip technology -- more properly referred to as microfluidics -- has been making headlines since the 1990s when the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded the technology in the hope of developing handheld sensors for hazardous materials and/or healthcare monitoring. Two important recent advances have helped move the field forward. One was the development of rapid prototyping systems using poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS), at Harvard University, and another was the development of a microfluidic valve, at Stanford University.

A biologically inspired silicon vocal tract

Silicon models of the retina have been used in machine vision systems, and circuit models of the heart have been used to shed light on cardiac and circulatory malfunction. Silicon cochlea models have led to improved speech recognition in noise and low-power cochlear-implant processors for the deaf. Now, researchers at the National University of Singapore and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed the first integrated-circuit vocal tract using a physiological model of the human vocal tract combined with a bionic ear processor in a feedback speech-locked loop to synthesize speech.

What’s going on inside the body: biophotonics and OCT

The Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is looking at more ways to exploit the capabilities of optical coherence tomography (OCT) to see inside the body for diagnostics and treatment of medical conditions in the eyes, vascular system, and other tissues and organs. Jim Fujimoto talked about the latest developments and how clinical and engineering perspectives work together, in a video interview:

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