Photonics West ’05 reflects more mature industry

From fiber lasers and high-power diode arrays to LEDs, spectrometers, and biomedical imaging, Photonics West ’05 (January 22-27) featured hundreds of technical presentations and product demonstrations that not only captured the diversity of this industry but reflected a subtle shift toward more applications emphasis at this traditionally technology-oriented conference.

SAN JOSE, CA - From fiber lasers and high-power diode arrays to LEDs, spectrometers, and biomedical imaging, Photonics West ’05 (January 22-27) featured hundreds of technical presentations and product demonstrations that not only captured the diversity of this industry but reflected a subtle shift toward more applications emphasis at this traditionally technology-oriented conference.

“There are so many emerging technologies and applications that it is a natural evolution for this industry and this conference to include more applications,” said Marilyn Gorsuch, SPIE event manager for Photonics West. “And given the structure of Photonics West (BiOS, OPTO, LASE, and MOEMS-MEMS), there is a lot of synergy and a lot of potential for cross-fertilization.”

But Photonics West is still a technologist’s paradise and still the leading event at which to launch new products and create new product-development and distribution relationships. According to SPIE, this year’s Photonics West was the organization’s most successful technical meeting and exhibition ever. With record vendor participation (nearly 800 exhibitors) and the largest attendance ever (15,000-plus), Photonics West continues to max out the San Jose Convention Center and surrounding venues. In fact, unless you signed up early, exhibit booth space and hotel rooms were nearly impossible to find. Even so, SPIE plans to return to San Jose for Photonics West in 2006, and the city is already working to further expand the convention center with a new annex that should be able to accommodate the conference’s steady annual growth.

The show got off to a busy start with the annual Biomedical Optics (BiOS) conference, which also saw significant growth in its vendor exhibits: 90 companies showcased their components and instrumentation this year, up 30% from 2004. In addition, the annual Saturday night BiOS “hot topics” event was attended by a standing-room-only audience of nearly 500. The Hot Topics once again showcased the current state-of-the-art in biomedical research and applications, with particular emphasis on optical imaging and nano-based applications. Britton Chance, professor emeritus of biochemistry, biophysics, physical chemistry, and radiologic physics at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), received a lifetime achievement award for his pioneering work in biomedical optics and presented results from a six-year study of breast cancer identification using a low-cost, handheld optical diffuse scattering measurement technique.

On the therapeutic side, Eric Mazur, professor of applied physics and physics, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA), gave a talk on cellular microsurgery using ultrashort laser pulses. For the last 20 years, Mazur’s research group at Harvard has been studying the dynamics of molecules, chemical reactions, and condensed matter on very short timescales using laser pulses. This work has led to subcellular surgery and nanosurgery, where femtosecond laser pulses are used to selectively disrupt submicrometer-sized organelles within living cells or tissue without affecting the surrounding material or compromising viability of the cell or organism.

On the show floor

As in years past, a number of vendors used Photonics West as a platform for launching new products, new strategies, and new ideas. Leading the pack were the fiber-laser vendors.

“Fiber lasers can do anything solid-state lasers can do,” said R&D manager John Clowes from Fianium (Southampton, England), which displayed several fiber-laser products in its booth and presented information on new developments in compact, ultrafast fiber-laser sources that offer improved beam quality, small size, and low cost.

-Nufern (East Granby, CT) unveiled a line of continuous-wave fiber laser modules; the PumpGuard optical fiber for multimode diodes; a PANDA-style fiber for visible and near-IR wavelengths; and a thulium-doped double clad fiber.

-Aculight (Bothell, WA) premiered its new PF1550-36 pulsed fiber laser (1.54 µm) for applications in laser range-finding, sensing, and micromachining.

-SPI Optics (Southampton, England) announced the latest additions to its range of redPOWER fiber lasers and some unique beam-delivery optics that are back-reflection tolerant.

-Del Mar Ventures (San Diego, CA) introduced all solid-state fiber lasers based on Er-doped and Yb-doped nonlinear optical fibers.

Photonics West ’05 was also notable for the number of international exhibitors on the tradeshow floor. Germany alone was represented by some 70 companies, and Scotland, Wales, the UK, and France all set up dedicated pavilions to showcase several of their young and growing photonics companies. These included:

-OSRAM Opto Semiconductors (Regensburg, Germany) showcased the OSRAM Sirilas SPL LG81, for solid-state pumping, material processing, illumination and industrial applications; OSTAR, a compact, high-power LED designed for miniature projection, head-up automotive displays, and industrial applications; and the Golden DRAGON LED, a 2-W LED that provides brighter light in a low thermal-resistance package.

-Mesophotonics (Southampton, England) released its Klarite substrates for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). According to the company, the Klarite SERS substrates allow the unique Raman fingerprint present in all molecules to be repeatedly identified.

-Varioptic (Lyon, France) displayed a novel “liquid lens” that is being targeted for zoom and auto-focus usage for camera cell phones. The low-cost technology comprises a water/oil mixture that deforms into a lens shape with application of electrical current.

Other notable product introductions included:

-Hamamatsu (Bridgewater, NJ) released the S9376 series CCDs for fluorescence spectrometers and Raman spectrophotometers; the H9530 series of 8-channel linear array multianode PMT assemblies; silicon avalanche photodiodes with high resolution and performance in a 3.5 x 4.0 mm package; and large-area PIN photodiodes for direct detection of charged particles and X-rays.

-Bookham (San Jose, CA) launched what it says is the world’s most powerful commercially available continuous wave laser diode bar, a 9xxnm 120-W CW multimode system.

-Newport (Irvine, CA) unveiled the SmartTable, an optical table that provides a 10X improvement in reducing resonant structural vibrations and settling time and minimizing vibration of components attached to the table surface.

-Coherent (Santa Clara, CA) introduced new 940- and 980-nm fiber-coupled laser diode bars with what the company says is the highest efficiency in the industry (> 50%). Lambda Physik introduced their “Pro” series lasers which build on the existing COMPex and LPX excimer laser series (now called COMPexPro and LPXPro).

-Polychromix (Wilmington, MA) revealed preliminary device specifications for a near-infrared spectrometer that utilizes the company’s MEMS spatial light modulator.

-Kathy Kincade

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