A race that never ends

The motivations of the runners in an amateur marathon race are typically mixed, ranging from the competitor who races to win, to the runner who "races" only to go the distance—or perhaps simply to run further than in a previous race.

Dec 1st, 2002

The motivations of the runners in an amateur marathon race are typically mixed, ranging from the competitor who races to win, to the runner who "races" only to go the distance—or perhaps simply to run further than in a previous race. But at the end of the day when the race is over, each of the runners—regardless of their original motive—can look back with a sense of accomplishment from having successfully run the race and met their personal goal along the way.

The driving forces behind the scientists and technologists involved in optoelectronics are no less varied than the motives of those marathon runners. In the case of science, though, the "race" never really ends. The invention of the transistor 40 years ago, for instance, was perhaps the end of a race, but it immediately led to new ones—so now we can fabricate millions of transistors onto a single tiny chip. And while it's easy for all of us to look forward and get carried away with the search for the next "killer app," it's also worthwhile to look back occasionally and, like the runners, take stock of our accomplishments. So in his year-end Technology Review on page S3, senior editor John Wallace takes us on a journey through the optoelectronics events of 2002, from high-brightness LEDs to quantum cryptography. We can speculate about the implications for the coming year. Which technologies will be winners and which may just go the distance—much like the marathon runner might contemplate the outcome of the next race.

The changing marketplace

As we consider the coming year, it seems to me that there are a couple of fairly safe bets. While optical communications will undoubtedly contribute less than in previous years to the optoelectronics marketplace, homeland security will make an increasingly larger contribution, offering opportunity and growth. Photonics technologies may provide enhanced protection of critical locations (see p. 45), and the laser-etching process featured on our cover this month promises improved identification of spent shell casings (see p. 13). Meanwhile, in January at the Laser & Optoelectronics Marketplace Seminar (San Jose, CA), the keynote speaker will discuss market and technology opportunities in homeland security. Besides a complete update of laser markets, additional seminar highlights include a look at ultrafast-laser processing and solid-state lighting. And at the end of the day, Tim Day of New Focus (San Jose, CA) will look back at the lessons his company learned from the telecom bubble and how they can be applied to new markets (see www.marketplaceseminar.com).

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