Optics East focuses on nanotech and IT

PHILADELPHIA, PA-It may have been small (just 1760 attendees and 100 exhibitors), but this year's Optics East conference tackled some of the largest emerging application areas in optics and photonics.

Nov 1st, 2004

PHILADELPHIA, PA-It may have been small (just 1760 attendees and 100 exhibitors), but this year’s Optics East conference tackled some of the largest emerging application areas in optics and photonics. Sponsored by the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) in Philadelphia-a city known for its contributions in pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, biomedical optics, and robotics-the four-day conference offered programs on semiconductor and nanotechnology applications, information technology (IT) and communications, optomechatronics (the fusion of optical and photonic devices with electro-mechanical systems), and robotics technologies and architectures.

The focus this year on nanotechnology and IT/communications produced a number of stimulating plenary sessions on the pervasiveness of these technologies throughout multiple industry sectors. Symposium chair Achyut K. Dutta from Banpil Photonics (San Jose, CA) was instrumental in bringing several experts from the field of nanotechnology to present their viewpoints on this importance of this technology to biological sensing, electronics, and manufacturing. With his references in the Wednesday plenary to the use of biological forms as tools from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Jonathan Trent of the NASA Ames Research Center (Moffett Field, CA) likened the bones of animals used as weapons by early man to the biologically-manipulated proteins that are now being used as nano-tools to perform a variety of functions.

“Just as we use wood as a structural element without having to understand how photosynthesis works, we can isolate complex protein groups on the nano-scale and use them to develop nano-tools even without understanding the functionality of these proteins,” Trend said. The result could one day be nano-sized tubes fabricated from chains of engineering protein molecules that can assemble in a particular order to create hollow tubes that can trap both organic and non-organic ions (such as gold) either holding the elements in place and creating long strands of atoms or nanowires or holding other biological entities in place as a kind of nano-scale test tube.

Plenary and workshop sessions for the IT industry focused on new disruptive optical component technologies for telecommunications, the convergence of SONET (synchronous optical network), SAN (storage area network), and DWDM (dense wavelength division multiplexing) networks via increased management and control automation, and US government support programs that stimulate technological innovation in the private sector.

A well-attended special event at the exhibition was “Drug Discovery: Capabilities and Opportunities for Photonics.” The session began with a talk by Robert Herzberg of GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals on their strategy for marrying the diverse disciplines of chemistry, biology, optics, robotics, and information technology to realize the potential of high throughput screening technologies. Here, screening of multiple diseases and drug assays can be improved through such techniques as fluorescence polarization and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, as well as improvements in laboratory robotics. The session concluded with a discussion of the dynamics, opportunities and challenges that are presented for funding drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry.

In the next-generation communication networks conference, Mohsen Kavehrad from Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Information and Communications Technology Research presented a paper on multi-rate laser pulses-with waveforms shaped like dolphin chirp sound pulses-that offer a new way of helping free-space optical signals penetrate clouds, fog, and other adverse weather conditions that sometimes hamper the success of this method.

Marilyn Gorsuch, events manager for SPIE, noted that the longevity of the Optics East conference should be assured by the continued focus in 2005 on sensors, photonics in life science, and photonics in IT/communications-three fields that continue to expand alongside innovations in nanotechnology, optoelectronics, and robotics.

-Gail Overton

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