CONFERENCE PREVIEW: Optics growth fuels SPIE conference

Sept. 1, 2000
A high-technology corridor is emerging in the southeastern USA, reaching from Research Triangle Park in North Carolina to Orlando, FL. At its heart is Charlotte, NC, which recently became a global center for banking and finance and is now gearing up for the optics revolution.
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A high-technology corridor is emerging in the southeastern USA, reaching from Research Triangle Park in North Carolina to Orlando, FL. At its heart is Charlotte, NC, which recently became a global center for banking and finance and is now gearing up for the optics revolution. On Sept. 18 and 19, optics professionals from throughout the region will converge on the Charlotte Convention Center (Charlotte, NC) for the OPTO-Southeast Conference. This conference, jointly sponsored by SPIE, the Optical Society of America (OSA; Washington DC), and the local Charlotte OSA, will offer technical presentations, short courses, and exhibits. Nicolaas Bloembergen, Harvard's Nobel Laureate in physics, will present the keynote speech Sept. 18, which will be open to the public.

The success of a 1999 regional conference sponsored by the Charlotte OSA chapter, Technology in the Carolinas, helped fuel this year's OPTO-Southeast conference, which is expanding to include the entire Southeast region. OPTO-Southeast is part of a growing effort to bring the region together and build a collaborative technology-based economic and educational infrastructure. "This region hasn't had the cohesion found in western and northeastern states," said Walt Tucker, founding president of the Charlotte OSA Chapter. "The OPTO-Southeast Conference will help turn this around and make people aware of the strong and rapidly growing optics community in the Southeast."

Charlotte has been invigorated with recent explosive growth in fiberoptics manufacturing, which is converging around one of the heaviest sectors of fiberoptic users: banking and finance. Nearby Spartanburg, SC, has one of the main facilities for Alcoa Fujikura Ltd. (AFL), which has had 16 years of rapid growth in passive fiberoptic product markets. Corning Inc. recently completed construction of its advanced fiber manufacturing facility in Concord, NC, just outside Charlotte, and also has announced significant expansion of the Concord, Hickory, and Wilmington, NC, facilities. North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. referred to Corning's $750 million expansion as "the single largest investment in our state in its history." Other companies with fiberoptic operations invested in the Carolinas include Alcatel and Sumitomo Electric.

The growth of optics research in Charlotte is also boosted by to a large medical sector. The Cannon Research Center at Carolinas Medical Center conducts optics-related biomedical research, such as conventional optical microscopy, electron microscopy, and near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM). Physicians from the Sanger clinic in collaboration with Carolinas Medical Center have been working on a means to cure patients with irregular heart rates using laser photocoagulation.

The optics industry boom in the Southeast demands a strong core of universities with programs in optics-related disciplines. Charlotte's primary public university, UNC Charlotte, has been rapidly expanding its research programs and increasing its enrollment to meet the demands of the regional optics industry. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), in Blacksburg, VA, has given rise to the Fiber and Electro-Optics Research Center (FEORC), which has an extensive research program, including the development of new optical fibers for medical applications (see Fig. 1).
Other colleges in the Southeast also have expanded their optics programs. The College of Engineering and Science at Clemson University recently established the Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies (COMSET). Research activities at COMSET are focused on novel materials and nanostructures, including polymers for efficient and tunable light-emitting diodes (see Fig. 2). In Florida, the Orlando area is a hotbed of optics research and industrial growth. The Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) at the University of Central Florida recently inaugurated a School of Optics. And Huntsville is home to the Center for Applied Optics at the University of Alabama.

For more information on the optics conference, visit, or contact Bonnie Peterson at (360) 676-3290.


Daniel C. Kilper, conference chair and assistant professor of physics, and Terrill W. Mayes, associate professor of physics at UNC Charlotte, contributed to this story.

About the Author

Valerie Coffey-Rosich | Contributing Editor

Valerie Coffey-Rosich is a freelance science and technology writer and editor and a contributing editor for Laser Focus World; she previously served as an Associate Technical Editor (2000-2003) and a Senior Technical Editor (2007-2008) for Laser Focus World.

Valerie holds a BS in physics from the University of Nevada, Reno, and an MA in astronomy from Boston University. She specializes in editing and writing about optics, photonics, astronomy, and physics in academic, reference, and business-to-business publications. In addition to Laser Focus World, her work has appeared online and in print for clients such as the American Institute of Physics, American Heritage Dictionary, BioPhotonics, Encyclopedia Britannica, EuroPhotonics, the Optical Society of America, Photonics Focus, Photonics Spectra, Sky & Telescope, and many others. She is based in Palm Springs, California. 

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