Stars turn out for SPIE 2013 Optics + Photonics

Sept. 3, 2013
When you saw this blog title, you might have thought that some "movie stars" turned out for the SPIE 2013 Optics + Photonics (O + P) conference held August 25-29 in beautiful San Diego, but alas, they didn't.
Gail Overton 720

When you saw this blog title, you might have thought that some "movie stars" turned out for the SPIE 2013 Optics + Photonics (O + P; conference held August 25-29 in beautiful San Diego, but alas, they didn't. The stars I'm talking about were the cool blue star necklaces that adorned attendees of the All-Conference Welcome Reception and Star Party on Monday night on the Convention Center Upper Level Terrace, as well as the fabulous stars that were being viewed in the night sky thanks to the telescopes set up by the San Diego Astronomy Association (SDAA;

In his 8 inch Meade reflector, an SDAA volunteer was displaying the M13 globular star cluster in Hercules on a small notepad computer--a much better option than standing in line to take turns looking through an eyepiece. I almost couldn't believe that what I was seeing was really M13--until he tapped the telescope to blur the image, which then displayed the bright green streak of the star-guiding laser pointer that he switched on! Being a bit of an astronomy nerd with my own 3.25 inch reflector, I was intrigued when the volunteer said that he was using a small video camera that was automatically programmed to time-average the cluster, which normally wouldn't be visible in the haze-covered, artificially lit sky of downtown San Diego. Hmmm--with my telescope gathering dust in the dining room--maybe it's time to rediscover the "digital" age of astronomy.

This year's 2013 O + P event also included the "Life in the Cosmos" panel from 8-10 pm on Tuesday evening, which I've always wanted to attend and sadly, missed again this year. But I did have the pleasure of meeting one of the panel moderators--Richard B. Hoover from Athens State University--who spent some time enlightening me on his work studying microfossils in meteorites (who knew? watch for an upcoming newsbreak on this in a future issue of Laser Focus World).

The biennial astronomical contingent always bumps up attendance at O + P, which reached 4500--200 more than last year--when the exhibition closed at mid-afternoon on Thursday. SPIE's manager, public relations Amy Nelson noted that the exhibition grew over last year as well, with a total of 178 companies compared to last year's 166, and 75 student chapter displays compared to 63 last year.

I was fortunate to attend the SPIE Women in Optics presentation by Kathy Perkins, director, PhET Interactive Simulations, University of Colorado, Boulder. This will be the subject of a future PHOTON FOCUS blog, as her work is really making an impact in physics education.

The solar, organic, signal and data processing, optical engineering, and remote sensing Plenary presentations were all excellent. I was surprised to learn in the signal processing plenary that open-source software is so prevalent in the biomedical community. Stephen Aylward of Kitware described how his company is working to improve open-source ruggedness through automated testing and algorithm review to make sure the routines--contributed to by hundreds and thousands of scientists that download them daily--don't get broken in the process. And wow, the video from Dennis Fisher of Genesis Applied Imaging that imaged the test human from a 35 mile slant range as he leaped from a balloon-borne capsule at an altitude of nearly 128,000 feet in the Red Bull Stratos Mission ( was simply incredible. The poor guy tumbled and twisted before gaining stability--all visualized by a ground-based mobile optical system of 35 cameras (4 years in the making) that witnessed the first human break the sound barrier in free fall.

On the last day of the exhibition, SPIE industry and market strategist Steve Anderson--our former Laser Focus World chief editor--gave a presentation on the state of the photonics industry. I was pleased to see that the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), in Steve's words, is "growing legs" and more outreach and concrete, quantitative programs are in development. For the latest news, go to and for more information on NPI or to volunteer or contribute to the program, visit

About the Author

Gail Overton | Senior Editor (2004-2020)

Gail has more than 30 years of engineering, marketing, product management, and editorial experience in the photonics and optical communications industry. Before joining the staff at Laser Focus World in 2004, she held many product management and product marketing roles in the fiber-optics industry, most notably at Hughes (El Segundo, CA), GTE Labs (Waltham, MA), Corning (Corning, NY), Photon Kinetics (Beaverton, OR), and Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA). During her marketing career, Gail published articles in WDM Solutions and Sensors magazine and traveled internationally to conduct product and sales training. Gail received her BS degree in physics, with an emphasis in optics, from San Diego State University in San Diego, CA in May 1986.

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