CLEO/IQEC 2009: Technology that matters

BALTIMORE, MD--Judging by the very noticeable increase in booth traffic during PhotonXpo exhibit-only hours, it was quite obvious that the bulk of attendees to this year’s Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics/International Quantum Electronics Conference (CLEO/IQEC) in Baltimore were spending their time listening to research papers and technical presentations rather than attending exhibits.

BALTIMORE, MD--Judging by the very noticeable increase in booth traffic during PhotonXpo exhibit-only hours, it was quite obvious that the bulk of attendees to this year’s Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics/International Quantum Electronics Conference (CLEO/IQEC) in Baltimore were spending their time listening to research papers and technical presentations rather than attending exhibits. But despite some slow hours on the exhibit floor, many exhibitors I spoke with are seeing signs that the photonics industry has hit bottom and is heading back up into positive growth territory; only time will tell.

Compared to 5300 attendees and 350 exhibitors in 2008, the 2009 CLEO/IQEC attendance figure of 4500 (and 300 exhibitors) was no doubt influenced by the current economic climate and the fact that The Society for Information Display (SID; sid.org) Display Week 2009 in San Antonio, TX was held during the same week as CLEO/IQEC, May 31-June 5. With both conferences taking place during the same week, the “Photonics for Energy” Market Focus sessions in the Photonics Applications, Systems and Technologies (PhAST) program on the PhotonXpo exhibit floor (and free to all attendees) were a bit more challenging to fill, considering the lack of available speakers to address energy efficient displays--a key consideration when discussing photonics for energy. But as you’ll see at the end of this report, “Photonics for Energy” is taking on a much larger meaning than just displays, lighting, and solar photovoltaics for 2009.

PhAST Market Focus

The PhAST Market Focus session on “Photonics for Energy” focused on new laser sources and processes in photovoltaics (PV) manufacturing, with Finlay Colville, director of marketing – solar, for Coherent (Santa Clara, CA) leading the presentations on Tuesday morning, June 2nd. The use of lasers in solar-cell processing is so new that, according to Richard Hendel at Rofin (Hamburg, Germany), 80–90% of crystalline silicon solar-cell manufacturers are not using lasers for scribing and edge-isolation processes; however, he says that thin-film PV manufacturers are using lasers much more. Additional presentations from IPG Photonics (Oxford, MA), OpTek Systems (Greenville, SC), and J. P. Sercel Associates (JPSA; Manchester, NH), highlighted the emerging interest in laser solar-cell processing to an audience of about 70 people at any one time.

With sessions on “Photonics for Energy,” “Biophotonics,” and “Photonics for Security and the Environment,” the PhAST Market Focus was a new offering for this year’s CLEO/IQEC. The Market Focus sessions were intended to offer a ‘business-oriented’ overview of the various markets that are served by the multitudes of high-technology products being developed by researchers and corporations in the photonics industry. Often, dry technical papers talk little about the applications for which the devices are intended; the Market Focus sessions were meant to be all about those applications, giving audience members a feel for the “next big things” needed in the way of photonics for future generations. If you were able to attend the Market Focus sessions and have comments, please email them to gailo@pennwell.com.

Innovation Awards

A highlight of the CLEO/IQEC Plenary presentation on Monday night was the announcement of BioPhotonic Solutions (East Lansing, MI) as the winner of the PhAST/Laser Focus World Innovation Award for FemtoFit--a low-cost, compact, commercial pulse shaper that unlocks the power of ultrafast lasers for industrial, scientific, medical, and defense applications. This award-winning product will be the focus of a video segment that will appear in a few weeks at www.laserfocusworld.com.

The PhAST/LFW Innovation Award highlights products or services that will have a long-term impact within our industry; something that will not be easily replaced by other technologies and represents a breakthrough, novel idea with a strong patent position that enables a particular set of applications to flourish.

In addition to the Innovation Award winner, four honorable mentions were awarded this year to IPG Photonics (Oxford, MA) for its YLS-5000-SM, 5 kilowatt Single-Mode Industrial Fiber Laser; Kapteyn-Murnane Laboratories (KMLabs; Boulder, CO) for the XUUS tabletop extreme ultraviolet (EUV) source; Orbits Lightwave (Pasadena, CA) for its Slow Light Laser Oscillator; and finally, TOPTICA Photonics AG (Munich, Germany) for iChrome, a user-friendly, widely tunable visible fiber laser for fluorophore excitation and other applications in microscopy and spectroscopy. A video at www.laserfocusworld.com will also highlight the honorable mention products as well.

The award winner and honorable mentions were selected from a total of 24 entries this year. PhAST and Laser Focus World encourage companies to begin thinking about their products for next year; please go to www.phastconference.org/innovation in preparation for the 2010 awards.

Press luncheon

Each year, members of the press and media are invited to attend a press luncheon that typically provides a comprehensive overview of the main topical areas from CLEO/IQEC. This year’s program was appropriately titled “Laser Applications: Today and Tomorrow” and began with an overview of the FemtoFit product from BioPhotonic Solutions by president and CEO Marcos Dantus. Aristide Dogariu, professor of optics at the University of Central Florida (CREOL; Orlando, FL), followed with “Healing with Light,” describing how light can impact the motility of cells, with cells aligning along the direction of polarization, for example, affecting cellular processes and physiological function. Filaments within the cell can be controlled, creating a “photonic scaffold” that can, among other things, assist in healing open wounds. Stuart McNaught, laser scientist at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems (Redondo Beach, CA) discussed a “100 kW Solid-State Laser System” that uses coherent beam combination and active phase locking to achieve its 2.9X diffraction-limited output. And Forrest Williams, principal optical engineer at Evans & Sutherland (Salt Lake City, UT), described the “World’s Highest Resolution Projector,” a technology profiled in a feature article in Laser Focus World (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/341582) that provides an unprecedented 30-million-plus-pixel display.

Photonics for energy

Not only was “Photonics for Energy” a Market Focus session, it was also the emphasis of the CLEO Monday night Plenary presentation by Edward I. Moses from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, “The National Ignition Facility: Exploring Matter Under Extreme Conditions.” No longer just an interesting science experiment, the NIF project and other fission/fusion projects around the world are calling attention to perhaps the greatest issue of the 21st century: how do we continue to consume energy without destroying the planet? I think we can all agree that “Drill, baby, drill” is not a sustainable answer. Moses says that NIF success will be the culmination of a dream: “Could we build a miniature sun on the earth?”--a sun that can generate more power in 20 ns than the entire U.S. electrical grid? In a building the size of a Wal-Mart, NIF is exploring this reality using 8000 large optics, 30,000 small optics, and 192 1.1 MJ beams, all focused with a pointing accuracy smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The obvious goal of laser burn with gain is a clean-energy challenge that Moses said needs to be “resolved in a few years, not 50 years from now.”

The CLEO/IQEC 2009 focus on delivering photonic systems to solve the energy crisis hopefully inspired the industry as a collective whole, emphasizing just how important photonics could be to our immediate future. After attending CLEO/IQEC 2009, I’m less concerned with the slumping economy and more interested in helping photonics move forward in any way I can!

--Gail Overton

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