Frontiers in Optics conference lives up to its name

SAN JOSE, CA-With Plenary talks focusing on frequency combs, nanotechnology, and a special Schawlow Prize Lecture on ultra-intense, ultra-short laser pulses, the 2007 Frontiers in Optics conference, the 91st Annual Meeting of the Optical Society of America (OSA; Washington, DC), definitely presented attendees with a banquet of presentations on new technologies and new scientific frontiers that are changing our daily lives.

SAN JOSE, CA-With Plenary talks focusing on frequency combs, nanotechnology, and a special Schawlow Prize Lecture on ultra-intense, ultra-short laser pulses, the 2007 Frontiers in Optics conference, the 91st Annual Meeting of the Optical Society of America (OSA; Washington, DC), definitely presented attendees with a banquet of presentations on new technologies and new scientific frontiers that are changing our daily lives. “Optics is becoming nano,” said Eli Yablonovitch, professor at the University of California at Berkeley and widely recognized as the father of photonic crystals in his Plenary “Nanophotonics: From Photonic Crystals to Plasmonics.” Yablonovitch talked about the evolution of photonic crystals from lab curiosity to real-world applications in directed light delivery for medical applications and specialized optical sensors for a variety of markets, adding that CMOS and silicon photonics are coming close to creating higher-speed network architectures for the future of communications.

“What is next beyond silicon photonics? Plasmonics,” answered Yablonovitch. Plasmonics can be viewed as a “bridge from the micro world to the nano world” he said, offering sub-wavelength metallic circuits that will operate at optical frequencies, optical antennas that will serve as new focusing elements for light, and even plasmonic transmission lines that will allow impedance values greater than free-space impedance.

Sharing the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics, John (Jan) L. Hall presented the second Plenary talk entitled “The Optical Frequency Comb: A Remarkable Tool with Many Uses.” Beyond the obvious technical discussion about the merits of frequency combs in metrology, spectroscopy, and molecular detection applications, Hall relayed two important non-technology-oriented messages to the Plenary audience in his talks: (1) Science is many things-but above all-it can be fun, and (2) today’s technologists need to spend extra effort mentoring young people to enter the field of scientific study. “Education is under challenge in the United States,” said Hall, reminding the audience that our individual role as ‘scientist’ must be expanded to one of ‘educator’-spreading the word about the merits of scientific study and careers to as many young people as we can influence.

With its large contingent of casually clothed, backpack-wielding students, the Frontiers in Optics conference remains a largely academic event, crammed with technical papers and light on exhibitor traffic. “Three of OSA’s honorary members-Emil Wolf, Charles Townes and John Hall-joined us at FiO this year,” said OSA executive director Elizabeth Rogan. “Leaders in the field attend OSA’s Annual Meeting because it served them as students and continues to serve their technical interests as seasoned professionals. It gives attendees an unparalleled opportunity to learn, network and connect not only with one another, but also with some of the field’s most renowned scientists and engineers.”

More than 1300 individuals attended this year’s event (held September 16-20 in San Jose, CA), which included 8 short courses, nearly 800 paper presentations across 157 sessions, and 50 exhibitions.

SPRC reviews its own optics frontiers

Along with eight other special symposia at this year’s conference-including topics on optics for energy, quantum mechanics, optical materials, optical thin films, and a review of the best OSA topical meetings-Stanford University (Stanford, CA) organized the Joint FiO/Stanford Photonics Research Center (SPRC) Symposium, aptly titled “Frontiers in Optics.” This conference symposium was a condensed version of the full two-day SPRC Symposium held September 15-16, 2007 on the Stanford University campus.

Daniel Palanker from Stanford University discussed retinal implant technologies that can electrically stimulate neural cells (using electrodes) to simulate sight for victims of retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. Different types of retinal implant technologies and some of the institutions that work on them include epiretinal stimulation from Second Sight (Sylmar, CA) and the Doheny Eye Institute (Los Angeles, CA), sub-retinal stimulation from Optobionics (Naperville, IL) and Stanford University, and visual cortex implants from the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT). While these technologies are not yet commercially available, clinical trials are underway with ever-increasing numbers of electrodes (60 to 4000) to increase resolution and visual acuity.

James Sheats from startup Nanosolar (Palo Alto, CA) gave a non-technical presentation about the merits of thin-film solar cells manufactured in a roll-to-roll process. The printed copper, indium, gallium, selenium (or CIGS) solar cells from Nanosolar are 100 times thinner than silicon cells, allowing the manufacture of ‘miles’ of material using sub-nanometer fabrication processes with little to no waste and with conversion efficiency-according to Sheats-comparable to amorphous silicon solar cells.

Stanford University’s Mark Schnitzer described “Optical Brain Imaging and Neuronal Mapping in Small Animals,” accompanied by a number of very good videos showing blood cells moving within neuronal blood vessels thanks to the capabilities of fluorescence microendoscopy.

In “Fundamentals and Applications of Photonic Crystals and Metamaterials,” Shanhui Fan of Stanford University described how metal-dielectric-metal (MDM) structures can behave as negative-index materials that can perform a variety of functions, including the elimination of polarization sensitivity, the creation of self-focusing optical materials and bandwidth filters with a tunable Q factor, and even for the creation of one-way waveguides that would eliminate back reflections and suppress scattering.

Finally, Mehdi Vaez-Iravani of KLA-Tencor (San Jose, CA) discussed the present status and future challenges of integrated-circuit (IC) inspection technology. Vaez-Iravani described how today’s IC inspection grows increasingly complex as the number of wafer material types continues to expand exponentially. In addition, the decreasing size of features on individual wafers is driving the need for sub-wavelength inspection tools and for unique lighting methods that can improve contrast in defect detection, as well as eliminate surface scattering that can further complicate inspection accuracy.

OSA’s 100-year anniversary drawing near

As part of the OSA Award and Honor Presentations at Frontiers in Optics, OSA president Joseph H. Eberly called 2007 an “unusually active” year for the society, noting that scheduling board meetings overseas is an indication of the increasing international presence within the OSA itself. He also called attention to the special symposia entitled “Optics and the Second ‘Magic Decade’ of Quantum Mechanics,” a joint symposium sponsored by the OSA, the American Physical Society, and the American Institute of Physics, which is a precursor to the series of ongoing history-related activities that will lead up to the OSA’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2016. With restoration of artificial sight, improved navigation for pilots using light detection and ranging (LIDAR), high-throughput sperm sorting, detection of malaria with light, and speeding up optical switches to improve Internet speeds being just some of the hot topics presented at the 2007 Frontiers in Optics conference, who knows what wonders we can expect in 2016?

-Gail Overton

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