Frontiers in Optics honors Nobel winners

As has been the case at many scientific meetings this year, the mood at the Optical Society of America’s 2005 Frontiers in Optics (FIO) and Laser Science (LS) XXI conference in mid-October was relatively upbeat.

TUCSON, AZ - As has been the case at many scientific meetings this year, the mood at the Optical Society of America’s 2005 Frontiers in Optics (FIO) and Laser Science (LS) XXI conference in mid-October was relatively upbeat. Against a stunning backdrop of inspiring desert sunrises and unusually heavy autumn thunderstorms, the weather and setting reflected a combination of lively scientific development and innovative economic enterprise in the context of a broader real world environment that possesses a good bit of economic and political uncertainty these days.

At the plenary session it was great to see an informal question-and-answer session between OSA president Susan Houde-Walter and the three winners of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics. It isn’t often that conference attendees are treated to such an esteemed presence, as evidenced by the standing ovation that Nobel winners Roy Glauber (Harvard University; Cambridge, MA), John Hall (JILA, University of Colorado and National Institute of Standards and Technology; Boulder, CO), and Theodor Hänsch (Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik, Garching and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat; Munich, Germany) received for their pioneering work in optics. When asked about their earliest recollections of an interest in science, Hänsch recalled his fascination at the yellow color from table salt sprinkled over a Bunsen burner that his dad bought for him, and Hall revealed his intrigue at how electricity could have a “shocking impact on your little sister.”

The FIO plenary also celebrated the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s breakthrough publications on relativity with a talk by Stan Whitcomb of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech; Pasadena, CA) on the role of optical measurements in formulating and testing Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. As deputy director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), Whitcomb was eager to announce that LIGO was expected to begin taking data by the end of this year that could possibly prove the existence of Einstein’s gravitational waves-an incredible feat considering the requirement to detect motion less than one-thousandth the diameter of a proton over a multi-km baseline.

While FIO 2005 was heavily reflective on the past accomplishments of Einstein and the Nobel winners, an interesting special events symposium entitled “A perspective on the future of optics and photonics research featuring representatives from key national research funding agencies” focused entirely on the future. Ravi Athale of Mitre Corporation expressed his personal views for the future of photonics: the world of compound semiconductors is moving to silicon, metals, and polymers; bandgap and refractive-index manipulation is moving to material size and shape manipulation; and separate optimization of subsystems is moving to joint design and optimization of subsystems. Henry Everitt of the Aviation & Missile Research, Development, & Engineering Center (Redstone Arsenal, AL) spoke less of his views on the evolution of photonics research and instead challenged the audience to use a SAT analogy test as the basis for predicting the future of photonics-for example, Brownie camera is to cell-phone camera as cell-phone camera is to …

Other highlights at FIO 2005 included five sessions on nanophotonics as it relates to some of the many technical divisions within the field of optics; and organic photonics, electronics, and optoelectronics, with focused sessions on “Organic Optoelectronics” and “Organic Thin Films for Photonic Applications” that discussed the scientific challenges, progress made, and future promises in these fields.

On the commercial front, the OSA reported attendance of 1335 people from more than 30 countries at the conference, an increase of 15% compared to the last Tucson event in 2003. In addition, with 71 exhibitors in 2005, FIO doubled the number of exhibitors compared to the 2003 event.

The 2006 Frontiers in Optics Conference and Exhibit will take place in Rochester, NY, October 8-10.

-Gail Overton, Hassaun Jones-Bey

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