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Century of the Photon: 9 predictions for 2065

Looking into the proverbial crystal ball is a risky endeavor.
"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X rays will prove to be a hoax." William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, president of the British Royal Society 1890-1895.
"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM 1914-1956.
But we humans seem to find the urge to do so to be irresistible on certain occasions, particularly anniversaries. At the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste recently, optics and photonics experts offered a few guesses as to what may happen over the next 50 years.
What new capabilities will technology offer us two-thirds of the way into the Century of the Photon? Fast-forward to 2065, when …
Solar energy provides 50% of the world’s still increasing energy demand.A second laser fusion power station has just been completed.More than 90% of humanity has T…

Scientific freedom award the latest honor for Omid Kokabee; calls for his release growing

We're sure he would have preferred a different path, but the contributions of Omid Kokabee to awareness of scientific responsibility are unmistakable. Last fall, he was named a recipient of the Andrei Sakharov Prize from the American Physical Society, and now the American Association for the Advancement of Science has announced Omid as the winner of the AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award for 2015.

Kokabee, a laser physicist and a member of SPIE, was imprisoned in his native Iran as he attempted to return to his PhD studies at the University of Texas at Austin after a visit to his family in Tehran, in February 2011. He was accused of conspiring with enemies of Iran, and convicted in a trial in May 2012. He was not allowed to meet with his lawyer.

Omid has continued his studies from prison, where he has written papers and submitted abstracts to professional meetings. Of course, he was not allowed to attend to present them. He's also been teaching -- English and ph…

Nine lessons from ‘clever’ nature that inspired photonics engineering

Spiders, fireflies, and pythons have all been responsible for inspiring solutions to challenges facing engineers working in light-based science and technology.
As Joseph Shaw, director of the Optical Technology Center at Montana State University, put it, “Nature has developed, very cleverly, some lessons on how to create the features that we desire in optical design.”
A highlight of the conference on Bioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication at SPIE Smart Structures and Nondestructive Evaluation early each year in San Diego is a visit from an animal ambassador and handlers from the San Diego Zoo’s Centre for Bioinspiration. The center’s mission is to advance the creation and development of nature-inspired products and processes that benefit humanity, wildlife, and habitats. Past years’ animal visitors have included:
Monty the Python [video 6:46], whose heat-seeking olfactory structures and hooked underside scales have helped inform engineering of thermal sensors and of mechanica…

Wanted: photonics ambassadors

Solving the challenges of the 21st century will depend as much on photonics as the 20th century's solutions depended on electronics.
Particles of light are the key ingredients for science and technology, from smartphones to medical imaging to synchrotrons. The United Nations’ International Year of Light initiative will show the world how optical and photonic technologies are vital to their futures and development of the whole society.
Some very big names have already gotten behind the initiative, and will be investing much time and considerable money in the effort. In addition to several professional societies who are Founding Partners, two companies and a professional society have signed on as Patrons, and a very long list of companies, research institutes, publications, universities, and associations are giving their support as well.
Even the Duke of York is getting involved, having declared his support as Patron in the UK.
And you, too, can be an ambassador for the Internation…

Photons for inspiration, fuel -- and light!

Editor’s note: A green laser lighted the early career path of then-physics-graduate Eugene Arthurs, now CEO of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.Light from many sources continues to provide him with inspiration and direction, Dr. Arthurs writes in this blog post originally published in the International Year of Light blog, www.light2015blog.org.
Looking back, my career path was not determined by some grand plan, but rather by the beauty of the light from an argon ion laser in our Applied Physics department at Queen’s University Belfast. It wasn’t the science that the laser was bought for, Raman spectroscopy, or an understanding of how the laser would change the world, that drew me.
At the time I was soon to graduate with a physics degree – the first in my family history to get a science degree – and was interviewing with a local branch of IBM where my love of mathematics might give me an edge and where I might find stimulating work in Northern Ireland.
But fate …

Ozone layer is recovering, satellite data says

Worldwide action to phase out ozone-depleting substances has resulted in remarkable success, according to a new assessment by 300 international scientists released on 10 September. The stratospheric ozone layer, a fragile shield of gas that protects Earth from harmful ultraviolet light, is on track to recovery over the next few decades.

The most current ozone hole satellite data comes from the Ozone Monitoring and Profiler Suite (OMPS) instrument on the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, known as Suomi NPP, and the Ozone Monitoring Instrument and Microwave Limb Sounder on NASA's Aura satellite. The full report will be available in early 2015.
Suomi NPP is part of NOAA’s next generation Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) constellation of polar-orbiting environmental satellites. Suomi NPP, launched in October 2011, provides continuity for NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) and is a bridge between NOAA’s legacy Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites (P…

Inside BIGSS 2014, Part 2: Where knowledge and fun shook hands

Editor’s note: Guest blogger Khushi Vyas, Outreach Coordinator for the SPIE Student Chapter at Imperial College London, was among students at the biophotonics and imaging graduate summer school 15-20 June at the National Biophotonics Imaging Platform Ireland (NBIPI), National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway. In the second of two posts, Khushi describes the experience of attending the school from a personal perspective.
Galway -- the cultural city of Ireland with Bohemian accents -- played host to the fifth annual Biophotonics and Imaging Summer School (BIGSS), organized by the NUI Galway Applied Optics group and chaired by Professor Martin Leahy, who also leads the NBIPI. A mixed crowd, from first-timers to all-timers, comprised this year’s approximately 50 students who not only attended the technical program but made the school an experience of a lifetime.
Practical workshops, poster sessions, and discussion groups on hot topics in the field of photonics and imaging encouraged us …

Inside BIGSS 2014, Part 1: Hot topics, trends, and the future of biophotonics

Editor’s note: Guest blogger Khushi Vyas, Outreach Coordinator for the SPIE Student Chapter at Imperial College London, was among students at the biophotonics and imaging graduate summer school 15-20 June at the National Biophotonics Imaging Platform Ireland (NBIPI), National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway. The first of two posts filed by Khushi describes the topics and trends discussed during the school.
The recent fifth annual Biophotonics and Imaging Graduate Summer School (BIGSS) offered a great platform for multidisciplinary learning in biophotonics and fostered communication across several disciplines. Students went home with new ideas, streamlined directions for research, new contacts, and the motivation to contribute towards finding solutions for unmet clinical needs.
Participants included approximately 50 graduate students and early-career professionals and seven distinguished guest speakers working in diverse fields of engineering and imaging physics.
School organizers i…

Your picture on the cover: SPIE’s International Year of Light Photo Contest

Show us your photonics -- that’s what the SPIE Professional magazine staff are asking of photographers around the world.
Winning photos showing the use of light and light-based technologies in daily life will win cash prizes and cover placement in an issue of SPIE Professional, published by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.
The SPIE International Year of Light 2015 Photo Contest is part of the society's observance of the United Nations-declared International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies in 2015 (IYL2015).
IYL2015 is a celebration of the crosscutting discipline of science that has revolutionized medicine, astronomy, and clean energy and opened up international communication via the Internet, and that continues to be central to linking cultural, economic, and political aspects of the global society.
Entries in the SPIE Professional contest must be received by 30 September 2014. Prizes will be awarded in 2015.
Judges knowledgeable in light-based…

Time to speak out for photonics

It’s time for the photonics community to “stand up and be counted,” said optics.org Editor-in-Chief Mike Hatcher in today’s newsletter. We agree! Here’s how Mike put it:
“The behind-the-scenes work being done by representatives of the U.S. National Photonics Initiative (NPI) appears to be paying off. This week, an official request for information (RFI) from the Department of Defense (DoD) included photonics as one of six technology areas under considerationfor a new public-private national manufacturing institute.
“That RFI signals the invitation for the wider community - both industrial and academic - to get more directly involved in the process, by feeding back the kind of information that the DoD is looking for.
"Now is the time for photonics proponents to communicate as clearly as possible the huge benefits that this technology will bring to the DoD and beyond with proper co-ordination, and the first chance to get involved is a webinar scheduled for tomorrow, Friday 6 June […

Photonics for sensing: short list of 18

For as much as sensing technology is already enhancing our lives, the future promises even more.
Take that smartphone, for example.
Currently, it contains several very useful sensors. But, noted Tim Day, CEO/CTO of Daylight Solutions during a session on “The Future of Sensing” at the recent SPIE DSS event in Baltimore, by 2020, it’s easy to envision hundreds of sensors on such a device.
Demands for personal fitness monitoring and personalized medicine are big drivers, Day said.
Today’s sensors can tell us a lot. For example: How quickly did I go from jog to sprint today compared to yesterday? How close am I to my destination? What is that constellation?
But we want to know much more: blood sugar levels, temperature, blood pressure, air quality, and on and on. And we will be able to, via wearables (see Scientific American on that topic) and other technology using photonics.
Looking at what’s in or close to being available to the consumer now, at the SPIE DSS Expo FLIR and Opgal were s…

Climate change: what scientists say

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has issued a bold call for action related to climate change. With the publication of a report on the subject entitled “What We Know,” the organization delivers an assessment of current climate science and impacts that emphasizes the need to understand and recognize possible high-risk scenarios.
But the organization ups the ante. CEO Alan Leshner, in a letter to members 14 May, says that it’s not enough to simply issue another report. Leshner’s letter says it’s time to “change the conversation from whether the earth is warming to just how we are going to work together to alter the course our planet is on.” He calls on scientists to work together to alert the United States and the world to “severe outcomes that could occur through inaction or continued resistance to change.”
The report cites polls in which a large minority of Americans still think there is significant disagreement among scientists about whether global warmi…

Life in the fast lane for photonics!

Backers of an initiative to raise awareness of the field of photonics and the many contributions photonics technologies and applications make to a stronger economy as well as quality of life have new reason to celebrate.
Last week, the Committee on Science of the the National Science and Technology Council nudged photonics toward the fast track, with the release on Thursday of a report by its Fast-Track Action Committee on Optics and Photonics (FTAC-OP).
In a report titled "Building a Brighter Future with Optics and Photonics,” the FTAC-OP presented a prioritized list of seven recommendations for research opportunities and research-related capabilities. The list aligns with and supports recommendations of the 2013 National Research Council Report Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for our Nation, addressing important needs from new methods for stopping disease, to more jobs that strengthen the economy, to expanded national manufacturing through homegrown R&D, to mo…

Brain-mapping milestone -- with photonics, of course!

For 10 years since its founding, the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle has been working toward a greater understanding of the brain, "inspired by the quest to uncover the essence of what makes us human," according to its website. It's a timely quest, given the "big neuroscience" efforts around the world -- including the Human Brain Project in Europe and the BRAIN Initiative in the United States.