There`s a lesson here
I read with interest your editorial on government hel¥for the laser industry in the May issue of Laser Focus World ("Does the laser industry really need government help?" p. 340). Government programs have provided the seed money for most of the semiconductor laser companies in the USA. The first experiments leading directly to the demonstration of the first semiconductor lasers were based on government funding of infrared transmitters at MIT Lincoln Labs. Laser Diode Inc., the first US diode laser company, primarily sold to US government customers in its early years. RCA Labs (now David Sarnoff Research Center) started its own laser diode company (which is now EG&G Canada), based on RCA`s government-funded research.
More recently, companies like Sensors Unlimited and Ortel also began to develo¥their product lines based primarily on government-funded research. Sensors Unlimited`s line of infrared semiconductor lasers grew out of government-funded programs at Sarnoff. Ortel`s government-funded high-speed laser programs were key to the development of Ortel`s lasers for CATV applications. Ortel as well as other semiconductor laser companies also benefited directly from government funding of university research.
US government funding has also been key to the success and product diversity at SDL Inc. Government funding led to the development of bars for the diode-pumped solid-state laser business. SDL also received government funding for visible laser research, leading to our recent announcement of a 650-nm 30-mW CW single-mode visible laser. This laser could be an enabling ingredient in erasable optical recording systems in the next few years, and this data-storage application could represent one of the largest markets for semiconductor lasers to date. SDL`s Raman laser was also developed in part through government-funded research programs (see Laser Focus World, May 1997, p. 143). I would say that virtually all of SDL`s products have benefited substantially from government funding.
Your readers may also be aware of many start-u¥and large companies making vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). Absent US government funding, VCSELs would not be in the market today and the aggressive forecasts for VCSELs in LANs would not be possible. In fact, I would venture to say that absent US government funding, about 80% of the US laser diode companies would either not be in business or would not be at nearly the size they are today.
As the editorial says, there is a lesson to be learned here. It`s not that government funding agencies choose their programs poorly. It`s that US companies rarely give enough credit to the inciteful program managers who have made the semiconductor laser industry competitive on a worldwide basis over the years. As a result, few readers realize that government funding has been absolutely crucial in the development of the semiconductor laser industry in the USA.
Donald R. Scifres
San Jose, CA
Einstein had it right
It was a pleasure to read the April editorial, "Take a tour of the calculus." A few years ago, I had a similar experience at the gas pump. I gave the "unfocused" cashier a $20 bill and said, "Pumٶ--16 dollars and 40 cents." She gave me $16.40 and kept on staring at infinity.
Where are we heading? All the Internet exposure and all the money being put into education will not solve this very serious problem if young people do not change their priorities. What Einstein said is a fact: "Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem to characterize our age."
Max J. Riedl