Community Needs to Raise Awareness of Photonics, SPIE CEO Tells Taiwan Audiences

The light-based technologies of photonics are vital for successfully leveraging cross-disciplinary solutions to global challenges in energy, healthcare, and communications. But greater awareness of the field is needed among policy makers and R&D strategists if the field’s full potential is to be realized, SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs told audiences in Taiwan recently.

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The photonics industry must work to ensure that the field's extraordinary potential for solving the world's challenges can be realized, Eugene Arthurs told SPIE NCU Student Chapter members.

The photonics industry must work to ensure that the field's extraordinary potential for solving the world's challenges can be realized, Eugene Arthurs told SPIE NCU Student Chapter members.

Without awareness, how can we expect support?

Bellingham, WA (PRWEB) December 13, 2013

The pervasive and powerfully leveraging field of photonics has rich potential to help solve the world’s major challenges, Eugene Arthurs, CEO of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, told audiences in Taiwan last week. But, he said, the community needs to raise awareness of the field if that potential is to be realized and R&D funding prioritized to fuel progress.

Arthurs presented on the field’s “Bright Future in a Changing World” as a plenary speaker at Optics and Photonics Taiwan, the International Conference, (OPTIC), and to the SPIE Student Chapter at National Central University. He noted Taiwan’s superb record in the production and export of photonics products. With .32 percent of the world’s population, Taiwan exports about 15 percent of products, including flat-screen displays, LEDs, and solar panels.

Among factors creating problems to be solved, Arthurs cited aging societies; economic structure upheaval; climate change; the “grand challenges” of energy, water, and food resources, and supply and cost of raw materials; and shrinking population in some regions.

All these represent opportunities for photonics industry development, he said. “Photonics has already contributed in many areas. We must work to ensure that we can realize the extraordinary potential.”

However, in the face of slow economic growth, straitened government science budgets, and a shortage of decision-makers who know what photonics is, more awareness of the impact and potential of the field is needed: “Without awareness, how can we expect support?”

In the European Union, Arthurs noted, photonics used to be just one of 37 technology platforms. It is now one of six designated Key Enabling Technologies (KET) for Europe, thanks in great part to sustained efforts by the industry organization Photonics 21. With the KET designation, photonics R&D funding has grown to €120 million per annum under the current funding program. It is expected to be increased under Horizon 2020, the next funding cycle, beginning in 2014.

A study at Stanford University in 2010 calculated the economic leverage of the laser at $7.5 trillion. SPIE and other societies involved with the National Photonics Initiative, an industry-driven campaign to guide photonics research and funding in the U.S., are working on updated statistics for the broader photonics industry to help communicate its size and economic impact.

A declaration of an International Year of Light in 2015 was expected to receive final approval by the United Nations earlier this month, Arthurs noted. The observance would provide numerous opportunities for the global community to raise awareness of the role light plays in our lives and how photons can improve the future for our children and grandchildren.

Examples abound

Medicine, displays, advanced manufacturing, information processing, and energy provide examples of important existing photonics applications as well as areas of need.

“Microscopy has completely changed medicine, vastly improving the ability to identify microbes and cancer cells. OCT (optical coherence tomography) has brought the ability to ‘see’ beneath the surface of the skin without cutting into the body,” Arthurs said. “Flow cytometry was key to unraveling the mystery of AIDS. Now, optogenetics — controlling cells in the brain with light — shows promise for treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and stroke.”

Demand for displays is expected to more than double to 440 million by 2020 per the Photonics Industry Technology and Development Association. Applications are head-up displays in automobiles, flexible displays for advertising and phones, and portable instruments for measurement and communications.

Advanced manufacturing is increasingly used to build jet engine and machine parts and rapid, inexpensive prototyping, with new applications in custom implants for joint or bone replacements.

To meet information processing needs including for the photonics-powered Internet, a typical data center uses an estimated 1 million lasers. Future demand will require 100 times the current capacity. Photonics solutions are in low-energy optoelectronics and dense optics such as silicon photonics.

A McKinsey report predicts that the total market in global lighting products will grow from nearly $100 billion by 5% annually through 2016 and by 3% thereafter until 2020, with LEDs accounting for more than 50% by 2020. Philips projects that OLEDs, with their unique features and applications in architectural and decorative applications, will grow to an $8 billion market by 2020.

As the cost per watt drops, niche applications of LEDs in consumer markets will include not only smart lighting but applications such as water purification and medicine.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves more than 235,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided over $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2012.


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