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Remote sensing at work: Organic crops, wetlands monitoring, coal mining, and more

Remote sensing technologies provide solutions to numerous and varied problems around the world. Here are six recent applications:

How can a remote yet vital wetland be monitored?

Problem: The socio-economically vital Sudd wetland in southern Sudan’s Nile River swamps is threatened by overgrazing and by loss of vegetation during the wet season. But its remoteness and inaccessibility due to civil war prevents field studies.

Solution: Using geospatial data-authoring software to quantify wetland cover changes, researchers from Ain Shams University in Cairo developed a process to interpret Landsat-generated imagery, map land-cover types and compare the images to produce change-detection maps. Read more in the team’s article in the SPIE Newsroom


What happens to land stability after coal is mined?

Problem: Extracting coal from underground mines generally leads to subsidence of the overlaying land within days or sometimes years. Local governments need information about land subsidence to ens…

Photonics erase a hindering past

Light is now enabling equal opportunity employment.

In Orange County, California, Judge David Carter has been supporting a program to remove tattoos in order to help convicted offenders to successfully re-enter community and get started on a positive path. The breakthrough will allow them to advance without telltale evidence of a hindering past.

The program, run by Stuart Nelson, Medical Director at the Beckman Laser Institute, University of California-Irvine, has already received kudos from the U.S. Probation Service in Orange County. The process employs laser light to fragment the ink particles so that they are carried away through the body’s immune system.

“This is particularly important to these clients because as they’re trying to re-enter society, acquire a job, establish a new identity and a new career, the stigma associated with having a tattoo can often inhibit that,” Nelson said.

Nelson said they’re fortunate in that most of their clients come with the popular dark blue and …

New industry tag line? We like it!

What’s in a name? The crew at Photonics Media obviously know the value of the right words. “Light Matters” is an excellent name for their video series on photonics news, and their tagline -- “It’s only five minutes to enlightment” -- is great as well.
So my colleagues and I were particularly pleased to read Group Publisher Karen Newman’s comments about the name of the annually organized pavilion in the SPIE Optics + Photonics exhibition that celebrates the contributions of the field. It’s also our blog’s name, of course, and is shared by a series in the SPIE Professional member magazine -- newly open access starting this month.
In her editorial published yesterday, Karen wrote, “Photonics for a Better World. I like the sound of that. I think it could be a great tag line for the industry.” We couldn’t agree more, and urge you to read Karen’s write-up about the life-enhancing photonics applications featured in the pavilion last August in San Diego.

Sustainable energy, earlier disease detec…

Will cuts in science funding undermine economic boosts from photonics industry?

Researchers and engineers in optics and photonics are watching closely, along with scientists from other disciplines, as governments look at serious budget cuts.
Everything is on the table, but of major concern is whether science and technology will suffer a disproportionate share of these budget cuts.
“Science and technology make an easy target for government policy makers, since frequently these fields are not seen to have an immediate effect on any individual’s livelihood,” notes Ron Driggers, Editor of Optical Engineering and a superintendent of the optical sciences division of the U.S. Naval Research Lab.
However, he stresses, science and technology have a dramatic long-term effect on everyone’s livelihood, driving the economy and changing our lives for the better in many ways.
“Science and technology literally create entire industries, and one result is jobs,” he asserts. “The creation and maintenance of the associated jobs more than repays the initial investment in science and tech…

Telemedicine: using the cell phone in field-testing for malaria and other diseases

What a great idea!
Aydogan Ozcan's group at University of California, Los Angeles, have developed a way to use the cell phone in a lens-free computational microscopy system utilizing digital inline holography to create on-chip imagers. The technique enables in-the-field testing for diseases such as malaria from remote locations, enabling faster and more universal diagnosis and thereby helping to save more lives.
In addition to Aydogan's interview last month with SPIE Newsroom in August 2011, more information from the group about the project and the technology is at these links:
Ozcan Research Group website
Handheld, lensless microscope identifies malaria parasites (SPIE Newsroom article from Ozcan lab)
Smart technology for global access to healthcare (SPIE Newsroom article by Aydogan Ozcan)

Sharing the light: photonics and vision

Members of the SPIE Student Chapter at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Poland went to a kindergarten to teach about physics, and came away with a powerful, life-changing idea for helping children with vision problems.

Chapter member Danuta Bukowska tells the story:

Like many other people with healthy vision, we had remained unaware of how difficult the lives of partially sighted people may be until we visited the Jan Brzechwa Kindergarten.
One intention was to demonstrate special experiments in physics to the children. In the process, we saw how much work and practice on their part is essential for the partially sighted children among the class to cope in society.
Deeply moved by this experience, we decided to take advantage of the resourcefulness and skills of young people who could put together an educational set of toys that would facilitate the process of learning for partially blind children.
The idea was to complete a cheap set of optical toys for visual stimulation and teachin…

Volunteer vacation has a photonics focus

Three student friends of SPIE Fellow Dr. Carmiña Londoño will have some great stories to tell about their summer break as they go back to school in the next few weeks. They spent a week this summer as volunteers teaching optics and other topics at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
Supported financially by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and the Optical Society of America, and by Kreischer Optics who provided lenses and prisms, Londoño’s group added an optics component to the arts and crafts, sports, language classes, and other activities organized by Orphanage Outreach.
The students -- Lillian, Nora, and Matthew -- also spent part of the week hoeing, weeding, and preparing the orphanage’s gardens for future planting.
For Londoño and Lillian -- her daughter -- this was the second such trip, and part of their tradition of taking a one-week volunteer vacation each summer.
“For reading classes, we used many of the books that Nora and Lillian brought as a gift f…

Seeing the light: LEDs at work in lighting and in wireless networking

Not only does Philips Lighting North America’s 10-watt LED bulb have the potential for saving billions of dollars in U.S. energy consumption and avoiding millions of metric tons of carbon emissions: it’s dimmable as well.

The bulb has earned the San Jose, California, company the Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) — the L Prize — for a 10-watt replacement for the 60-watt incandescent bulb.
Replacing every 60-watt incandescent bulb in the U.S. with Philips’10-watt LED bulb would save 35 terawatt-hours of electricity or $3.9 billion in one year and avoid 20 million metric tons of carbon emissions, according to the DOE prize announcement (enough electricity to power the lights of nearly 18 million U.S. households, or nearly triple the annual electricity consumption in Washington, D.C.). 
Steve Landau of Philips talks about the prize-winning bulb in this SPIE Newsroom video:



LEDs for wireless, too

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institue for Telecommunications

That green glow from the lab? It's photonics innovation

The recent news from Brussels that the European Commission is proposing to increase research and innovation funding to €80.2 billion for the 2014-2020 budget has a decidedly green tint. Some of the money in the proposal to fund the EU’s newly named Horizon 2020 strategy would be earmarked for energy, and some to make the economy greener and more competitive.

Examples of how photonics -- one of the six Key Enabling Technologies identified by the European Commission -- drives innovation in support of sustainability are everywhere.

As an overview, Steve Eglash (Stanford University and Precourt Institute for Energy) explains in this video just what "green photonics" is, and talks about the integration of disciplines such as psychology, law, business, and physics.



In a keynote paper presented last March at SPIE Eco-Photonics in Strasbourg, Berit Wessler (OSRAM) and Ursula Tober (VDI Technologiezentrum) provided a comprehensive look at the direct environmental benefits from -- for …

Knowing what we don't know: 'Aha' moments in overcoming the valley of death

(Michelle Xu is a PhD-graduate from the University of Toronto, where she worked to engineer diagnostic hand-held devices using nano-grating surface plasmon sensors and nano-pillar photonics crystal sensors to enable the early detection of cancer. Knowing that her device could identify high-risk individuals and help prevent disease, she was motivated to commercialize her research. To support her efforts, Newport and SPIEsponsored her attendance at the Biomedical Engineering Entrepreneurship Acadamy (BMEA) held at the University of California, Davis earlier this month. Below are her reflections on the experience. Her colleague Chang Won will be writing about his experience at the academy next week!)

The number one lesson I learned at the BMEA was that in academia, we start by solving a problem and then search for needs; in business planning, we start with a need, and then solve the problem. This issue of course raises the question, “Are technologies validated differently in academia and…

Ideas from the photonics lab can improve -- and even save -- lives

We’re living in the Century of the Photon, and examples of the important roles the enabling technology of photonics and optics play in our lives are everywhere.

For examples, start with computers and the internet.

SPIE Fellow John Greivenkamp, professor of optics at the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences, talks about the optical technologies inherent in those applications in this brief video.



A list of 50 breakthroughs contributed by researchers at America’s national labs has been compiled in a brochure published by the U.S. Department of Energy, and posted in a PDF on their website. Among the list:



From learning about photosynthesis came the ability to explore how to derive sustainable energy from the sun.An engineered particle removes arsenic from drinking water, and an ultraviolet-light system kills microbes that cause water-borne diseases. A revolution in medicine that has saved many lives with cancer-detecting nuclear imaging devices came out of development of the sc…

How many ways can photonics innovation change life for the better?

Quick quiz: List five examples of how photonics technology has changed how you live -- how you work, travel, relax, look after your health --- whatever. Easy, right? Now, name five photonics-based changes you expect to see in the near future. Also easy.

Photonics solutions are everywhere, and the time is ripe for more photonics innovation. Governments, industry, and other funders around the world are developing new policy initiatives and offering new sources of funding in support of photonics R&D.

Some of those initiatives need your participation to be successful. Among them:

●   In the UK, photonics recently was named one of the potential candidate areas for investment in the next phase of the Strategy and Implementation Plan for Technology and Innovation Centres (TICs). If you live in the UK, you can help influence that choice: Comments about what photonics can do are being sought, and can be posted on the photonics TIC discussion space or emailed to centres@tsb.gov.uk.

●   The Euro…

Tiny island, big opportunity! (Part 2 of 2 from Biophotonics '11)

(This is a guest post by Sabine Donner and Nadine Tinne, SPIE Student Chapter members who spent the end of May in Sweden at Biophotonics '11)

Last week we wrote about our expectations going into Biophotonics '11, and now that school has finished for the summer, we wanted to check back in to share a bit of our experience and encourage you all to find ways to get in touch with others in your own fields of research.

The tiny island of Ven between Denmark and Sweden hosted 15 professors and 64 students from 18 countries who joined the Biophotonics ’11 Summer School. Seven days was hardly enough time to sufficiently discuss topics of biomedical optics, hear lectures and make friends!

Dr. Katarina Svanberg (SPIE’s president) and the many other lecturers shared deep insights with us into their fields of research, including OCT, photodynamic therapy, and tumor imaging, and also motivated us to use photonics to fulfill unmet clinical needs. They emphasized the many ways that photons and…

Water, water, everywhere: photonics can make sure it’s fit to drink

Do you have ready access to clean drinking water?
That isn’t something everyone around the planet can take for granted. More than a billion people do not have access to clean water, and around 1.5 million children die each year as a result of water-borne diseases.
Several projects we’ve heard about recently are employing photonics technologies to change this picture and save lives.
A European Union research consortium is working on a compact, low-cost photocatalytic water treatment system that uses photons from sunlight to decompose organic pollutants in water. The completed system will resemble rooftop solar panels, and will be placed on dwellings near ponds and streams with poor water quality. It will require no electricity or chemicals, so will be well-suited to developing regions – and sustainable, wherever it is installed. Funded by an EU Seventh Framework Programme grant ,the consortium includes groups from Denmark, France, Italy, Israel, Jordan, South Africa, and the UK. Among the …

School’s not out for summer: Broadening horizons at Biophotonics ’11 (Part 1 of 2)

Biophotonics ’11 is underway and two of SPIE’s Student Chapter members are participating in the summer school program. Sabine Donner and Nadine Tinne, both students pursuing their PhDs in biophotonics at the Laser Zentrum Hannovere e.V., are currently on the island of Ven in Sweden, learning about tissue optics, optical imaging and cell manipulation with lasers, among many other things. SPIE is proud to be a sponsor of this event, which brings together renowned lecturers from all over the world with promising students from this field. Nadine and Sabine are going to check back in at the end of the summer school session with additional reflections and more about what they learned, but in the meantime, here are some of their thoughts as they got ready to head to Sweden!

“We are excited about getting in touch with other young scientists and expert lecturers and having the chance to discuss our work with them – hopefully being inspired and prepared for our future research. We both got into…

Here comes the sun: Sustainable energy solutions and green photonics

The effort toward a sustainable energy future got a boost this week.

Japan — already a leading world player in expanding  solar energy production capacity development — announced it is changing direction from nuclear power initiatives for electricity generation to renewable energy sources. Prime Minister Naoto Kantold the world press that Japan will increase energy generation via solar, wind and biomass in its power grid, as well as enhance energy conservation.

While the change in direction was at least partly related to tsunami damage nuclear-power facilities experienced in March, green photonics initiatives in several countries in recent years have boosted the world’s capacity for sustainable energy.

Here’s where the action has been:

• Photovoltaics (PV) for solar energy: Following record installations in 2010, there is now nearly 40 GW of at-peak PV capacity installed around the world, according to the latest annual report and forecast of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association …

Healing the brain with light: optogenetics

Repairing brain disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain, by targeted application of light: research by the Synthetic Neurobiology Group led by Ed Boyden at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has the potential to change many lives through photonics.

Boyden described his work in a new video interview for the SPIE Newsroom. Read more here:

Boyden's article on 'Controlling the brain with light,' SPIE Newsroom

'Seeing the light,' MIT News

'Selective brain stimulation with light,' SPIE Newsroom