Materials science brings rewards

Nov. 1, 2000
In one form or another, materials science plays a vast and immensely complex role in almost all aspects of our daily lives.

In one form or another, materials science plays a vast and immensely complex role in almost all aspects of our daily lives. The composition, design, and processing of materials affects everything from the look and feel of the cars we drive to the manner in which our food is produced and packaged. Within the field of optoelectronics, developing an understanding of the behavior of complex materials and structures and figuring out how to modify that behavior represent significant scientific milestones. Just how significant such milestones can be was underscored Oct. 10 with the announcement that the 2000 Nobel Prize in physics will be awarded jointly to Zhores I. Alferov (A. F. Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute; St. Petersburg, Russia) and Herbert Kroemer (University of California at Santa Barbara, CA) for developing semiconductor heterostructures used in high-speed electronics and optoelectronics and to Jack S. Kilby (Texas Instruments; Dallas, TX) for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit. Alferov used heterostructures to make the first room-temperature semiconductor laser, and all modern lasers are based on his work. The Nobel Prize in chemistry, meanwhile, will be awarded jointly to Alan J. Heeger (University of California at Santa Barbara, CA), Alan G. MacDiarmid (University of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, PA), and Hideki Shirakawa (University of Tsukuba, Japan) for the discovery and development of conductive polymers, work that was an essential step in the development of plastic light-emitting diodes. These six researchers have played a significant part in laying the foundations of modern optoelectronics.

More recently, materials science has allowed development of new types of variable optical attenuators with performance improvements that should open up new markets (see p. 139). It is involved in the ongoing effort to shorten the time to develop new drugs with high-throughput screening (see p. 103) and in finding novel ways to cool lasers (see p. 155).

On the commercial front, the processing of materials represents one of the largest (and oldest) markets for lasers and includes topics as diverse as the welding or cutting of metal using high-power solid-state lasers and the fabrication of microscopic structures with excimer lasers (see p. 75 and cover). The broad range of papers at this year's International Congress on Applications of Lasers and Electro-Optics (Dearborn, MI) served to emphasize the importance of understanding laser/material interactions, which is only a small fraction of the materials-science world.

P.S. The Laser and Optoelectronics Marketplace seminar will be held Monday, Jan. 22, 2001, in conjunction with Photonics West (San Jose, CA). For more information contact Sharon MacLeod at (603) 891-9224; e-mail: [email protected].

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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