Skip to main content

What's in a name: light and photonics

Light: you need it, you use it. But do most people know how much we use it -- and why should they?

Helping to tell that story, the 2 posters at right anticipating an International Year of Light (IYL) celebration in 2015 were among more than 30 on display in the Photonics for a Better World pavilion during the exhibition last month at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego. The posters were designed by supporters of a proposal before the United Nations to establish the IYL to raise awareness about the initiative.

Yes, that’s right: a year especially set aside for the contemplation and celebration of light – and along the way, plenty of opportunity to talk about photonics.

Hardly a household word now, "photonics" refers to science and technology involving the manipulation of photons -- light. One of the goals of an International Year of Light is, essentially, to make “photonics” a household word, in the same way that “electricity” and “chemistry” are.

This is important, not just to the photonics industry, for a simple reason. Not having a word to name or describe something goes hand-in-hand with not understanding it, and perhaps not even noticing it.

But applications of photonics technologies are everywhere these days. The modern world is stocked with objects and experiences supplied by cross-disciplinary R&D enabled by light.

Ignoring photonics would be a big drawback for inventors trying to create new products (think of the smartphone) or improve services (social media feeds run by mass transit systems to help travelers avoid delays). It would hamper researchers looking for a better way to treat disease (blood testing without pricking the skin), or keep our food supplies safe (sensors to detect e coli).

The list goes on and on. Take a look around wherever you’re reading this, and add your own.

Policy makers need to understand the word “photonics” as well, for the sake of the economies they help steward. Depending on where and how the counting is done, somewhere between 40 and 80 percent of economic growth over the last 50 years is the result of technology innovation.

Today’s major innovators and market leaders are focusing on photonics -- the most driven and organized are even calling it by name. They’re using it in systems to defend their regions from military and cyber attacks, to ensure clean water supplies for their people, to diagnose disease in the remotest regions as well as hospitals and clinics, to light communities in more efficient ways and conserve energy supplies … once again, the list goes on and on.

The IYL initiative would celebrate and educate about light in science, technology, nature and culture. Groups supporting the IYL have already received an endorsement from UNESCO and are optimistic that the proposal will be put before the full U.N. General Assembly by the end of the year.


And learn more about those striking posters and the book in which they're featured at http://magic-of-light.org/iyl2015/index.htm.

Here's to an ...

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Changing life as we know it: the Internet of Things and cyber-physical sensing

More than 20 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices are expected to be deployed within the next few years; by 2025, this number may reach as much as 1 trillion connected devices. Driven by growth in cloud computing, mobile communications, networks of data-gathering actuators and sensors, and artificial intelligence with machine learning, this trend will change how we live our lives.
Already we live among connected devices in our homes.

Increasingly, we will also wear them, drive them, and monitor our health via the IoT. More businesses will build, ship, and design products and manage inventory with connected devices. In our cities, transportation, communications, and security infrastructure, and services such as water distribution and energy management will employ IoT applications. Farmers will find many uses, from insuring the health of livestock to increasing crop productivity.
Several conferences scheduled for SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing 2018 (15 through 19 April in Orland…

Hyperspectral imaging: defense technology transfers into commercial applications

Hyperspectral imaging, like many other of today's technologies, is moving into numerous commercial markets after developing and maturing in the defense sector. While still having a strong presence in defense applications, the technology is now used in chemical detection, food quality assurance and inspection, vegetation monitoring, and plant phenotyping, among others.
For more than 20 years, advances in spectral imaging have been on display at SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing (DCS). The applications and capabilities of the technology have grown along with the conferences and exhibition at SPIE DCS.
The ability to see more than what is visible to the human eye has always been one of the goals of optical engineers. With hyperspectral imaging they have been able to achieve just that. By accessing the entire electromagnetic spectrum, the sensors are able to image a specific wavelength range, or spectral band, and combine images of multiple bands into one 3D scene.
Through analysis,…

Glass ceiling, sticky floor: countering unconscious bias in photonics

Who knew … until last year: Three African-American women working — in obscurity — for NASA as mathematicians played a vital role in the mission that sent astronaut John Glenn into orbit around Earth and brought him back again, in 1962.
Publication of Margot Lee Shetterly's book Hidden Figures and the subsequent release of the acclaimed 2016 film brought the story of the important roles played by Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson to light for the first time for many.
While their story may have been little known for decades, struggles for opportunity and inclusion are familiar to many women and to members of under-represented minorities or other groups working to make a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field.
Findings on gender equity from the latest SPIE Optics and Photonics Global Salary report indicate that women in the field lag behind men in salary and in representation in management and senior academic positions.
The cost…