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

#FacesofPhotonics: Rising Researcher Alina Zare

SPIE's #FacesofPhotonics is sharing the story of Alina Zare, Associate Professor at the The Machine Learning and Sensing Lab at the University of Florida. Dr. Zare was recognized as a 2018 Rising Researcher for her work in Electronic Imaging & Signal Processing, at the SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing conference.

This program recognizes early career professionals who conduct outstanding research in the defense, commercial, and scientific sensing, imaging, optics, or related fields. If you want to learn more about the program, the details are here.

Enjoy the interview with Alina!

1. Tell us about when you first became interested in optics and photonics. In my senior year of  undergraduate studies in computer science, I was taking an Image Processing elective.  I really enjoyed the course, and the professor for the class, Dr. Gerhard Ritter, encouraged me to do some undergraduate research.  
So I joined Dr. Paul Gader's research lab as a undergraduate researcher where I he…

#FacesofPhotonics: Photovoltaics PhD Student Arfa Karani

Meet this week's SPIE Faces of Photonics feature, Arfa Karani. Arfa is a physics PhD student at the University of Cambridge, studying the physics of solar cells. She is originally from India, but has lived outside her home country for many years while pursuing her education. 

Arfa was also President of the SPIE Student Chapter at the University of Cambridge in 2017-18, and continues to remain involved with the chapter when she's not hard at work in the university's Cavendish Lab.


Enjoy her interview!




1. How did you become interested in the optics and photonics field? Was there a person who inspired you?

My physics teacher at school inspired me. I got interested in studying optics because my curiosity was satisfied by this teacher, who was extremely enthusiastic about what they did. When you ask too many questions as a child, people try to divert your attention once they are tired of answering. Not this teacher.

I know it’s a bit cliché, but I was amazed by how one could cre…

Lighting Their Way

It's a feast for the science-curious senses: in June, two cohorts of two dozen middle-school girls came together for the free, STEM-focused, four-day-long Physics Wonder Girls Camp sessions organized by Dr. Roberto Ramos, associate professor of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

The girls studied the properties of light, built telescopes, designed and engineered submersible robots, and learned about scientific professions directly from the experts: nanoscientist and Chair of Bryn Mawr College's Physics Department Dr. Xuemei Cheng; INTEL software engineer Dr. Marisa Bauza-Roman; and several female food scientists from Puratos, a global company working with bakers and chocolatiers to assess the best ways to improve their products, all came and talked about their professions, answering questions and interacting with the campers. Plus, they got to be on TV!

The camp was initially inspired by Dr. Ramos' daughter Kristiana who expressed interest in the s…