Research brings many rewards

Aug. 1, 1999
At last January's Photonics West meeting in San Jose, CA, Waguih Ishak of Hewlett-Packard Labs, presented the first Heather Williamson Messenger Young Investigator Award to Vijay Jayaraman, a research scientist at Gore Photonics.

At last January's Photonics West meeting in San Jose, CA, the 1999 Optoelectronics Symposium chair, Waguih Ishak of Hewlett-Packard Labs, presented the first Heather Williamson Messenger Young Investigator Award to Vijay Jayaraman, a research scientist at Gore Photonics (Lompoc, CA) involved in the development of long-wavelength vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). The award was established by PennWell in memory of Heather Messenger, who was Executive Editor of Laser Focus World at the time of her death in 1998.

Jayaraman received the $1000 award for his work with 1300-nm VCSELs, which forms the basis of one of this month's feature articles (see p. 159). He notes in his article that the need for a low-cost, single-mode, high-data-rate 1300-nm VCSEL for long-distance fiberoptic communications links has led to a significant increase in related research activity and device performance over the past four years.

The recognition of a market need-such as the VCSEL described above-and successfully fulfilling it is a time-honored recipe for success in a capitalist economy such as ours in the USA. Financing of such endeavors is typically based on the assumption by investors that they will get back over the long term significantly more than they put in up front. Notwithstanding the attractiveness of this model from a business point of view, however, there have been many technological advances that resulted less from good marketing followed by carefully tailored research and development and more from basic research driven solely by curiosity, or simply "by accident." And often funded by government money.

The curiosity factor

Professor Hyatt Gibbs from the University of Arizona notes in this month's Comment (p. 88) that the original VCSEL was not simply the result of edge-emitter researchers trying to improve their diode lasers but that work related to optical computing played a key role too. He argues that, for the USA to remain economically and scientifically competitive, it cannot afford not to fund the type of curiosity-driven research that has historically led to many technology breakthroughs, but that does not fit the traditional market-driven model.

Coincidentally, governments in East Asia also are apparently recognizing the importance of basic research-as distinct from product-oriented development-as a foundation for economic growth. Executive Editor Conard Holton's Asian Report (p. 116) describes in some detail how the countries in that region are shifting some of their resources to establish long-term research activities of a more fundamental nature.

About the Author

Stephen G. Anderson | Director, Industry Development - SPIE

 Stephen Anderson is a photonics industry expert with an international background and has been actively involved with lasers and photonics for more than 30 years. As Director, Industry Development at SPIE – The international society for optics and photonics – he is responsible for tracking the photonics industry markets and technology to help define long-term strategy, while also facilitating development of SPIE’s industry activities. Before joining SPIE, Anderson was Associate Publisher and Editor in Chief of Laser Focus World and chaired the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar. Anderson also co-founded the BioOptics World brand. Anderson holds a chemistry degree from the University of York and an Executive MBA from Golden Gate University.    

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