A flower blooming in the desert

Dec. 1, 2002
ICALEO attracts worldwide attention to a stellar conference

The desert does not enchant me. It's stark, which I don't find attractive. I will admit that after Spring rains parts of it can be beautiful. But the desert in and around Phoenix/Scottsdale gets its year-round beauty artificially, thanks to a canal bringing water from the Colorado River. And for most of the year, Scottsdale is air conditioned thanks to electricity from the same river.

I'd be willing to bet that even the native Navaho Indians would live somewhere else, if they could. Especially because most don't have air-conditioning and what water they use comes from wells.

Fortunately, the sponsors and organizers of the 21st International Congress On Applications of Lasers and Electro-Optics (ICALEO), the Laser Institute of America (LIA), saw more in the desert than I do and they put together what turned out to be the most well attended meetings in the series and the best from a presentation standpoint. One might say this ICALEO was a bright rose in an otherwise conference desert this year. Other top meetings have been down in attendance by up to 25 percent or more.

It may have been the lure of the desert that caused attendees from 27 countries, and the U.S., to journey to Scottsdale. I know they were taken by the Navaho culture, especially the opening ceremony that featured a Native American dancer, who also later entertained at the evening President's reception. I was also, until I overheard the entertainer say he also did bar mitzvahs and recorded salsa music.

By my reckoning, about half the attendees at the October meeting came from another hemisphere, a record I am certain. It was certainly a pleasure to meet laser enthusiasts from Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria. It surely wasn't the weather (90s every day) that brought them to Arizona. But I'd be willing to bet that a goodly number of the 125 attendees from Northern Europe and the UK relished the hot sun, because they could be found whenever possible clustered around the pools.

The main ballroom of the hotel/resort was almost full for the Plenary Session, entitled The Journey of Laser Processing, covering the beginnings to the future. This was followed by 31/2 days of concurrent sessions that focused on new and advanced developments in laser welding, electronics production, surface modification, beam/.process diagnostics, diode and solid-state lasers, laser forming, micro-machining, laser/materials interactions, sensing and controls, micro-processing, ablation and processing of exotic materials. Most of these sessions were arranged into two conferences; laser material processing and laser micro-fabrication.

A laser industry vendor program drew more than 70 companies who displayed products related to laser materials processing to hundreds of attendees. And seven short courses held over the four days provided instruction to those new to specific sectors of the technology.

The highlight of each ICALEO is the presentation of the Arthur Schawlow Award for contributions to laser applications in science, industry and education. Fittingly this year's winner, Dr. Akira Matsunawa, Professor Emeritus of Osaka University, has been associated with the LIA since this writer organized the 1981 US/Japan joint conference on laser processing, which was the precursor to the ICALEO format. That meeting was the culmination of several years of negotiations between several Japanese technical organizations.

Conference General Co-Chairmen Eckhard Beyer and Rajesh Patel are to be congratulated on the exemplary efforts that resulted in this year's record-breaking attendance. And the LIA staff gets a standing ovation for cultivating this flower.

David A. Belforte
[email protected]

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