CONFERENCE REVIEW: Optics East features nanotechnology and ITCom

Optics East 2004, sponsored by SPIE, the International Society for Optical Engineering, was held Oct.

Dec 1st, 2004
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Optics East 2004, sponsored by SPIE, the International Society for Optical Engineering, was held Oct. 25-28 in Philadelphia, PA-a city known for its contributions in pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, biomedical optics, and robotics. Technical conferences paralleled those areas with programs on semiconductor and nanotechnology applications, information technology, and communications (ITCom), optomechatronics (the fusion of optical and photonic devices with electromechanical systems), and robotics technologies and architectures.

The focus this year on nanotechnology and ITCom produced several plenary sessions that discussed the pervasiveness of these technologies throughout multiple industry sectors. Symposium chairs Achyut Dutta from Banpil Photonics (San Jose, CA) and Werner Weiershausen from T-Systems Nova (Frankfurt, Germany) were instrumental in bringing experts from the field of nanotechnology to present their views on the importance of this technology to biological sensing, electronics, and manufacturing.

Nanotools

The implications of nanotechnology can even extend to the use of biological agents as nanoscopic tools of the future. Jonathan D. Trent of the NASA Ames Research Center (Moffett Field, CA) likened the bones of animals used as weapons by early man to the biologically manipulated proteins that are now being used as nanotools to perform a variety of functions. “Just as we use wood as a structural element without having to understand how photosynthesis works,” said Trent, “we can isolate complex protein groups on the nanoscale and use them to develop nanotools even without understanding the functionality of these proteins.” Examples of nanotools include nanosized tubes fabricated from chains of engineered protein molecules that can assemble in a particular order to create hollow tubes that can trap both organic and inorganic ions (such as gold), either holding the elements in place and creating long strands of atoms or nanowires, or holding other biological entities in place as a kind of nanoscale test tube.

Disruptive technologies

Plenary and workshop sessions for the ITCom industry focused on new disruptive optical-component technologies for telecommunications, the convergence of SONET (synchronous optical network), SAN (storage-area network), and DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) networks via increased management and control automation, and U.S. government support of programs that stimulate technological innovation in the private sector.

Drug discovery

A well-attended special event at the exhibition was “Drug Discovery: Capabilities and Opportunities for Photonics.” The session began with a talk by Robert Herzberg of GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals (London, England and Philadelphia, PA) on its strategy for marrying the diverse disciplines of chemistry, biology, optics, robotics, and information technology to realize the potential of high-throughput screening technologies. Here, screening of multiple diseases and drug assays can be improved through such techniques as fluorescence polarization and fluorescence-correlation spectroscopy, as well as improvements in laboratory robotics. The session concluded with a discussion of the dynamics, opportunities, and challenges that are presented for funding drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry.

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M. Saif Islam and colleagues at the Quantum Science Research group of Hewlett-Packard Laboratories (Palo Alto, CA) have developed a solution to the long-standing issue of interconnecting 1-D semiconductor nanowire devices with conventional integrated-circuit elements, using processes compatible with mass manufacturing. They fabricated two opposing vertical and electrically isolated semiconductor surfaces using optical lithography along with wet and dry etching. Then they grew lateral nanowire devices from one surface and epitaxially connected them to the other, forming mechanically robust bridges. The work was presented in the conference on nanosensing at Optics East 2004.

Technical paper presentations and short courses covered topics in optics and optomechanics, optoelectronics, homeland security, biomedical technologies, nanotechnology, and sensors, among others (see figure). Mohsen Kavehrad from Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Information and Communications Technology Research (University Park, PA) presented a paper in the next-generation communication-networks conference on multirate laser pulses-with wave forms shaped like dolphin-chirp sound pulses-that offer a new way of helping free-space optical signals penetrate clouds, fog, and other adverse weather conditions that sometimes hamper the success of this method. On the nanotechnology side, researchers from Princeton University (Princeton, NJ) and the Hahn-Meitner Institute (Berlin, Germany) presented a paper, “Stretching DNA in nanochannels”-one of the nanotool applications that was described by Jonathan Trent from NASA in the plenary talk.

This year, 100 exhibitors participated in the event, up from 89 in 2003. The conference topics will consolidate in 2005 into three symposium areas: sensors (chemical, nano-, bio-, fiberoptic, robotic, and industrial), photonics in life sciences, and photonics in communications and information technology.

“The Optics East conference should continue to grow with the continued focus in 2005 on sensors, photonics in life science, and photonics in ITCom-three fields that continue to expand alongside innovations in nanotechnology, optoelectronics, and robotics,” said Marilyn Gorsuch, events manager for SPIE. - Gail Overton

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