Optics + Photonics sees nano and solar future

SAN DIEGO, CA-Attendance was up and the San Diego weather was pleasant as usual for the Plenary-rich 2007 SPIE Optics + Photonics show held August 26-30.

Sep 1st, 2007

SAN DIEGO, CA-Attendance was up and the San Diego weather was pleasant as usual for the Plenary-rich 2007 SPIE Optics + Photonics show held August 26-30. “Optics + Photonics is proceeding on the right track with its emphasis on nano and solar technologies, which are immensely important to our future,” said Akhlesh Lakhtakia, Charles Godfrey Binder professor of engineering science and mechanics at Pennsylvania State University (State College, PA) and editor-in-chief of SPIE’s Journal of Nanophotonics, an online-only journal that focuses on the fabrication and application of nanostructures that either generate or manipulate light from the infrared to the ultraviolet regimes. Lakhtakia continued, “But this emphasis on the nano and solar future has its feet firmly planted in the past glories and ongoing research in optics and photonics, a foundation from which all future technologies emerge.” Lakhtakia was among the Plenary speakers at Optics + Photonics and also chaired two sessions in the Photonic Metamaterials conference within the NanoScience + Engineering symposium.

Compared to previous SPIE Optics + Photonics shows, this year’s technical conference was neatly divided into four topical areas: NanoScience + Engineering, Solar Energy + Applications, Photonic Devices + Applications, and Optical Engineering + Applications-tabbed boldly in the Technical Program guide as NANO, SOLAR, PHOTONICS, and OPTICS for easier navigation by conference attendees. The conference featured a three-day exhibition, as well as a number of workshops and events for students, four days of technical courses spanning all of the major technical topical areas, a number of Technical Special Events on Illumination, Adaptive Optics, Lens Design, and X-Ray/EUV Optics, a Panel Discussion entitled “Life in the Cosmos”, and of course, the 2007 SPIE Annual Meeting with its SPIE Members Reception and Annual Awards Banquet.

Optics + Photonics 2007 attendance was around 5100 individuals-a healthy increase over the 4400 attendees in 2006. In addition, last year’s offering of 2600 technical presentations grew to over 3100 technical presentations.

Plenary sessions

Although the number of Plenary presentations decreased slightly to a total of 18 compared to last year’s 19 presentations, the Plenary sessions were more closely aligned with the four topical conference areas: NANO, SOLAR, PHOTONICS, and OPTICS. Word from an SPIE insider is that next year’s conference may see a reduction in Plenary presentations in order to make room for the growing number of technical papers.

The All-Conference Plenary-presented Sunday night to a crowd of around 500-consisted of two presentations; the first on “Technology to Enable our Solar Technology Future” by Thomas Feist, manager of the Thin Films Laboratory in Micro and Nano Structures Technologies at GE Global Research (Niskayuna, NY), the second on “The Concept of the Photon: Updated” by Marlon O. Scully of Texas A&M and Princeton University. Feist explained that nobody wants their solar-electricity system to look like it was installed by Radio Shack, making the point that the adoption of new solar-energy technologies will be speeded by building-integrated solar systems that seamlessly integrate with existing building architectures such as the use of photovoltaic (PV) roof tiles and organic PV window glass. Feist applauded the Solar America Initiative being led by the U.S. Department of Energy, and provided an overview of the organic and inorganic solar-energy technologies such as roll-to-roll compatible dye-sensitized solar cells and classic silicon or crystalline PV technologies, respectively, that have the potential to achieve 80% conversion efficiencies.

The six NANO Plenary sessions began on Monday morning with a visually exciting presentation on “Optically Driven Mechanical Micro/Nanosystems in Classical and Quantum Realms” by professor Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop, head of the School of Physical Sciences and a Director of the Centre for Biophotonics and Laser Science at the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia). Her many videos displayed in real time the optically induced rotation of birefringent calcium carbonate nanoparticle spheres and other nanomachines within fluids by using the orbital angular momentum of light. Even though Rubinsztein-Dunlop pointed out that renowned Caltech researcher Richard Feynman said that we don’t have to be useful (when it comes to working in the field of nanotechnology), we can just have fun (which these videos certainly are), she also explained how the properties of these spinning nanoparticles can be used to non-invasively determine the viscosity of fluids in the eye and even of intra-cellular fluids-a tiny “microviscometer” thanks to the ultra-small dimensions of these emerging nanomachines.

In the “Plastic Optoelectronics and Aligned Carbon Nanotube Devices” Plenary, Wright Brothers Institute Endowed Chair Professor of Nanomaterials at the University of Dayton (Dayton, OH) Liming Dai described how polymer-infused carbon nanotubes can replicate the feet of a gecko and be used to produce smart membranes that can support tremendous weight on smooth surfaces. Even though Dai joked in his presentation that perhaps we can all be Spiderman someday, the image he displayed of a tiny membrane supporting a rather large weight as it clung tightly to a vertical piece of glass was not a joke; instead, it was a practical application of biomimetics working in concert with nanotechnology.

And if you thought being Spiderman was enough, how about the possibility of making tiny nanomachines that could undertake ‘The Fantastic Voyage’ of entering the human body and performing both diagnostic and curative tasks? Such a scenario was presented by Michael J. Heller, professor at the University of California, San Diego (La Jolla, CA), who presented “Nanotechnology: New Tool for Diagnostics and Treatment of Cancer.” In this NANO Plenary, Heller discussed how in-vivo “Motherships” are being developed from a combination of specialized nanoparticles and integrated chip devices that could detect, for example, individual cancer cells and deliver chemotherapy agents directly to the affected cells.

Akhlesh Lakhtakia’s NANO Plenary presentation entitled “Brave New Nanoworld, without Apologies to Aldous Huxley” discussed the societal issues surrounding nanotechnology and educational strategies necessary for students and the general public to embrace its “socially transformative power.” In a 2005 survey published in the international journal Futures, said Lakhtakia, it was found that social perceptions of nanotechnology are either utopian or dystopian, with no middle ground. Consequently, Lakhtakia concludes that mathematics and sciences must be properly integrated with humanities and social sciences in pre-university education courses to better communicate the health impacts and risks of nanotechnologies, improve the life-cycle auditing of nanomaterials, and for example, understand the new forms of surveillance and sensing that nanotechnologies enable and the privacy issues they raise.

The Solar Energy Plenary Session on Monday afternoon kicked off with “The Solar-hydrogen Economy: An Analysis” in which Eco-Engineers CEO Warren Reynolds warned of the ongoing decline in oil production and how solar and other renewable energy sources such as wind and hydrogen power are anticipated to exceed fossil-fuel consumption by around 2030. Reynolds pointed to the California Hydrogen Highway Network (www.hydro genhighway.ca.gov) and a 300 MW solar farm project by San Diego Gas & Electric and Stirling Energy Systems (Phoenix, AZ) as a few examples of renewable-energy projects necessary to the success of our future solar-hydrogen economy.

The last plenary of the conference was delivered Wednesday by Kristina Johnson, Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University (Durham, NC). Her presentation, “3-D Home Theatre Systems,” discussed the latest developments in stereoscopic and holographic three-dimensional (3-D) displays. She reviewed the history of 3D theater, from the earliest polarized glasses used in 3D movies of the 50s, to a stereoscopic projection display room at Duke that holds ten people wearing virtual 3D glasses, but costs about $600,000. “This isn’t going to be in everyone’s home,” quipped Johnson. But the conversion from 2-D displays to 3-D single-stereoscopic projectors is the next step, being driving by Hollywood movies, the gaming industry, and sporting events.

Focus on astronomy

The OPTICS technical conference was brimming with presentations on space mission proposals, and the Astronomical Optics and Instrumentation track revealed just how much activity is happening in space-based astronomy. In a talk entitled, “Instrumentation for Future Cold Far Infrared (IR) Space Missions,” Matt Bradford at CalTech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL; Pasadena, CA) described the concept of next-generation cryogenic spaceborne observatories, the next step beyond large-aperture mirrors in reducing the photon noise limit. In the far IR between 100 to 1000 µm where “half of the radiation in the universe” is observed, heterodyne sensors in ground-based systems have too much quantum noise, according to Bradford. Identifying early solar systems and black holes requires such high spectral resolution, that “temperature becomes more important than aperture.” A Japanese 3.5-m cold telescope, SPICA-ISAS/JAXA, is planned for launch in 2017. Missions led by the U.S. are planned for 2020, namely the 10-m Single Aperture Far-InfraRed (SAFIR) and the 4-m Cryogenic Aperture Large Infrared Space Telescope Observatory (CALISTO) missions.

Paul Goldsmith of JPL presented more details on CALISTO, a far-IR/submillimeter observatory between 30 and 300 µm, proposed to fill the gap between the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and ground-based IR facilities. Far IR optics must maintain temperatures less than 4.5 K to observe supermassive metal-enriched ejecta in stars in the early universe, the evolution of galaxies, and hydrogen in galaxies and galactic shocks. With 14 square meters of solar cells for power, and a scan rate of 177 arcsec/sec, CALISTO would be able to map the entire sky in 763 days.

Bert Pasquale of NASA-Goddard (Greenbelt, MD) subsequently discussed the proposed Dark-Energy Space Telescope (DESTINY), which would use a 0.12° field of view at an angular resolution of 0.15 arcsec in the IR range from 0.4 to 0.17 µm to probe dark matter via high-redshift Type Ia supernovae and gravitational lenses. If the DESTINY proposal is selected against competitors such as the Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM), it would orbit outside the earth-moon system for six years of observations.

Many other sections outside the titular Astronomy section seemed to concentrate on space-based study, such as that of planet Earth. The Earth-Observing Systems section had no fewer than eight presentations and several more posters on the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) alone, a key instrument currently aboard the north-to-south orbiting Terra (EOS AM) and Aqua (EOS PM) satellites. Terra MODIS and Aqua MODIS view the entire Earth’s surface every one to two days, acquiring data in 36 spectral bands over land, oceans, and the lower atmosphere. In the PHOTONICS session entitled IR Detectors and Focal Plane Arrays IX, several speakers presented their work on astronomical applications of 2-D arrays. Large-format, composite focal-plane arrays have grown from the ubiquitous 2048 x 2048-pixel size of the HAWAII-2RG at Teledyne Imaging Systems (Camarillo, CA), to the 4096 x 4096 at both Teledyne and Raytheon Vision Systems (Goleta, CA); they grow in leaps with each advance in molecular beam epitaxy, substrate material, and read-out integrated circuit technology.

Exhibition and new products

The Optics + Photonics exhibition showcased the products and capabilities of 266 vendors (compared to last year’s 281 vendors). The special Hawaii Pavilion again showcased that island’s growing photonics infrastructure, while the large number of booths for the various SPIE student chapters reflected SPIE’s continuing excellence in igniting the interest of the student population in pursuing careers in photonics. The total of SPIE’s scholarship and grant awards in 2007 was $290,000, with $60,000 going to education and outreach grants.

New product announcements at Optics + Photonics 2007 included HeatBuster Hot Mirror and Spectral Metal Thin Film Coatings from Deposition Sciences (DSI; Santa Rosa, CA) that can satisfy most military applications, the FASTCAM MH-4 camera system from Photron USA (San Diego, CA) for imaging in hostile conditions such as vehicle impact testing, and a compact snapshot indium gallium arsenide short-wave infrared camera system from SUI (part of Goodrich Corporation) that provides image capture from pulsed events or moving objects within one frame. Finally, first-time Optics + Photonics exhibitor PhaseView-USA (San Diego, CA) demonstrated its MicroPhase three-dimensional topography solution-a low-cost profiling system based on patented Digital Phase Technology-that can measure in the nanometer range and be retrofitted to existing microscopes.

-Gail Overton and Valerie Coffey

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