A year to forget? Perhaps not . . .
Economically speaking, this past year is one that most people would probably prefer to put firmly behind them, while looking forward with wary optimism to a gradual recovery in 2010.
Economically speaking, this past year is one that most people would probably prefer to put firmly behind them, while looking forward with wary optimism to a gradual recovery in 2010. Yet despite the very real challenges thrown up by the tough business climate throughout 2009, invention and product development in photonics science and engineering has continued, it seems, unabated. “The quantity and quality of innovation in photonics this past year was enormous,” notes senior editor John Wallace in his Annual Technology Review. His pick of this year’s highlights–which range from a tiny 44-nm-diameter surface-plasmon laser to invisibility cloaking with transform optics–shows just how dynamic the field of photonics has become.
One of the motivators behind all this ingenuity is competition–the desire to make something better than the other guy has been fundamental to human progress. In the lab, the best multijunction photovoltaic (PV) solar cell efficiency is currently about 40%. But in the rough and tumble of the marketplace, PV conversion efficiency is only one factor in the equation for commercial success. “Manufacturers of solar cells now find themselves in a competitive market ... some are fighting for their very survival,” says contributing author Steve Eglash who profiles the competition between two PV companies–SunPower and Suntech–with very different approaches to PV technology, but both using crystalline-silicon cells.
So, by all means put the economic memories of 2009 firmly behind you, but do remember that the underlying “engine” of invention and innovation is alive and kicking, enabling us to live another day. And, as if to make that point, next month brings a bigger-than-ever Photonics West to its new home at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, CA. As detailed by senior editor Gail Overton, there’ll be no shortage of technical advances and product innovations in evidence to start the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the first working laser.
Stephen G. Anderson
Editor in Chief