China's phenomenal growth in photonics

Jan. 26, 2016
Curiosity leads to an informal analysis of an issue of Optics Express.
Government R&D funding in China has grown in an exponential fashion from 1995 (16.07 billion yuan) to 2014 (731.22 billion yuan). At the 2014 exchange rate, 731.22 billion yuan = 112 billion US dollars. (Graph is from Qihuang Gong's presentation at the 2015 Laser & Photonics Marketplace Seminar, held by Laser Focus World in conjunction with SPIE Photonics West)

The other day I was perusing my favorite journal in the field of optics and photonics, the Optical Society's (OSA's) Optics Express;1 while reading one high-quality technical paper after another, I became more and more aware of how many of them were from China. Of course the topic of China's growth in research capabilities is not new, but still -- there it was, in front of me.

So I decided to do an informal analysis. Taking the issue I was reading, which was Optics Express, 25 January 2016, Volume 24, Issue 2, I went through each topic one by one and determined how many of the papers came from China. My chosen criteria were: 1) only papers from mainland China (so Taiwan was excluded); and 2) the papers had to either come solely or primarily from Chinese research institutions (and I would say that at least 90% of the papers I selected were solely from Chinese institutions).

The results are at the bottom of this blog -- but in summary, 46 of the 144 papers and articles in that issue were from mainland China, or 32% of the total. I did not choose this issue or journal because it had an especially high proportion of papers from China, so analyses of other issues may return a higher (or lower) percentage.

What this says to me, though, is that China's output of high-quality research in optics and photonics is huge. But I know this already from the increasing numbers of technical news stories that I have written for Laser Focus World in the past few years on the results of Chinese research.

I've written stories based on Chinese R&D on laser fusion optics test equipment, white-light LED telecom, pressure-assisted photonic-crystal fiber splicing, high-power wafer-level LED chips, and so on.

My colleague Gail Overton has written stories on Chinese research resulting in increased LED output using laser-induced air voids, polymer pipes for single-mode terahertz transmission, and others.

China's presence in photonics
China's population is about 1.37 billion, or about 18.5% of the world population of 7.40 billion. The Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics (SIOM), which does laser technology development and physics research, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014. China has its own "optics valley" in Wuhan that has 2000 high-tech enterprises, 18 universities and institutes, 56 state-level research organizations, and more than 150,000 professionals in this area.2

According to a presentation given by Qihuang Gong at the 2015 Laser & Photonics Marketplace Seminar (held by Laser Focus World in conjunction with SPIE Photonics West), there are more than 2000 so-called higher education institutions (HEIs) in China, with more than 200 of these HEIs "optics related," spread over 30 main cities; "optics related" graduate students are 20% of the total. (Gong is a professor of physics at Peking University and is VP and secretary general of the Chinese Optical Society.)

OSA, researchers' ally
Talking with my chief editor, Conard Holton, we became curious about what the people at OSA are thinking about all this. Elizabeth Nolan, OSA's deputy executive director and chief publishing officer, was kind enough to quickly provide us with a comment.

"While physics was the first discipline to see the number of submissions and published papers from China exceed that of all other countries, the scientific publishing community as a whole has been experiencing an increase in the volume of submitted papers over the last 3 to 5 years," says Nolan. "This change is reflective of both the ongoing efforts of the Chinese government to invest in efforts to improve both the quantity and quality of its research output and of publishers, like The Optical Society, who have undertaken a myriad of initiatives to assist Chinese authors with the development of the papers that they are submitting for publication."

In essence, OSA is acting as the "glue" that helps to bind together researchers around the world; the result will surely be increased collaboration between far-flung institutions and the development of even more impressive optics and photonics.

Results of informal analysis
These numbers were taken from Optics Express, 25 January 2016, Volume 24, Issue 2: for each topic, the first is the number of papers from mainland China and the second is the total number of papers in that topic.

Absorption and Cavity-Based Techniques (0 of 1)
Adaptive Optics (0 of 1)
Atmospheric and Oceanic Optics (2 of 2)
Atmospheric Optics (1 of 1)
Detectors (1 of 1)
Diffraction and Gratings (2 of 6)
Electrooptics (0 of 1)
Fiber Optics (1 of 2)
Fluorescent and Luminescent Materials (0 of 2)
Fourier Optics and Signal Processing (1 of 1)
Geometric Optics and Optical Design (0 of 5)
Holography (1 of 1)
Illumination Design (0 of 1)
Image Processing (1 of 3)
Imaging Systems and Displays (0 of 6)
Instrumentation, Measurement, and Metrology (7 of 9)
Integrated Optics (0 of 2)
Laser Machining and Material Processing (0 of 3)
Laser Materials (0 of 1)
Lasers (0 of 1)
Lasers and Laser Optics (6 of 9)
Light Trapping for Photovoltaics (1 of 3)
Light-Emitting Diodes (2 of 3)
Materials (1 of 1)
Medical Optics and Biotechnology (1 of 1)
Metamaterials (1 of 2)
Microscopy (1 of 1)
Nanomaterials (0 of 6)
Nanophotonics (0 of 3)
Nonlinear Optics (4 of 7)
Nonlinear Sources (0 of 1)
Optical Communications (1 of 6
Optical Devices (0 of 2)
Optical sensing and sensors (0 of 1)
Optical Trapping and Manipulation (0 of 1)
Optics in Computing (0 of 1)
Optoelectronics (1 of 3)
Photonic Crystals (0 of 3)
Photovoltaics (0 of 2)
Physical Optics (0 of 3)
Plasmonics (3 of 8)
Quantum Optics (0 of 2)
Radiative Transfer (0 of 1)
Remote Sensing and Sensors (1 of 2)
Sensors (3 of 8)
Solar Concentrators (0 of 1)
Spectroscopy (1 of 5)
Subwavelength structures, nanostructures (0 of 1)
Terahertz Optics (1 of 2)
Thin Films (1 of 3)
Ultrafast Lasers (0 of 1)
X-ray Optics (0 of 1)


1. Optics Express, 25 January 2016, Volume 24, Issue 2.

2. Qihuang Gong, "Lasers in China: Technologies and Markets," 2015 Laser & Photonics Marketplace Seminar, held by Laser Focus World in conjunction with SPIE Photonics West.

About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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