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Photon by Photon: Photonics Timeline

Optical Industry Directory published
SPIE Founded
The 1960s - A brand new industry
First laser constructed
First optical fiber laser
Nobel Prize in physics
Breakthrough in fiber optics
Optical Spectra magazine
Color video cartridge player
The 1970s - Photonics as a separate technology
Nobel Prize in physics
First bar-codes
Predicted success of coherent optics
Underground fiber optics
Email will fail
Charles Hard Townes Award
Photonics Spectra magazine
First audio CD
Surge in CAD/CAM
Improved lenses
Directed Energy
Maturing optics & laser technology
Erbium-doped fiber amplifier
New generation of technology
Optical fibers improve
Airborne Laser system
Nobel Prize in physics
Photovoltaics prediction
NKT Photonics
European Photonics Industry Consortium
Nobel Prize in physics
Silicon Photonics Alliance
Nobel Prize in physics
THz photonic integrated circuit
40-Gb/s optical modulator
Nonionizing near-IR spectroscopy
Curiosity Rover lands on Mars
First QD-based display
Optical add-on kits
First maser demonstrated
LASER acronym used
Optical maser patent granted
Lasers available commercially
First medical laser use
Sydor Optics Inc. founded
Nobel Prize in physics
LIA founded
Photonics industry expanding
Continuous-wave room-temperature semiconductor lasers
La Photonique coined
Continuum Inc. established
A star is born - Optical communications
Cascading solar cell concept
New era in communications
NobelPrize in physics
Worldwide PV production
Improved LCD Cells
OZ Optics Ltd.
Nobel Prize in physics
Nobel Prize in physics
Improved solar-to-electric conversion
Expanding reach
Quantum cascade laser
BioPhotonics magazine
EuroPhotonics magazine
Low-cost digital display
Increasing instruments market
New millennium
Improved sunlight to electrical current
Nanostructured sample holder
Nobel Prize in physics
LED illumination prediction
Brain cell research grant
IEEE Photonics Award
192-beam laser system
National Photonics Initiative
Bottle resonator
More efficient solar energy
Industrial Photonics magazine
Increased global distribution
  • Displays
  • Fiber
  • Lasers
  • Optics
  • Solar
  • Spectroscopy
The Laurin Publishing/Photonics Media story starts in 1954 with the publication of the first Optical Industry Directory by Dr. Clifton Tuttle, eminent retired Eastman Kodak physicist.

The first maser is demonstrated at Columbia University by Charles Hard Townes, Herbert J. Zeiger and James P. Gordon.

The Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) is founded.

Gordon Gould jots down the acronym laser in a lab notebook and has it notarized.

The 1960s gave shape to a brand new industry and redefined our world. The Baby Boom wound down but left a legacy that would be felt for decades to come – a legacy that would challenge this industry to solve problems we were only then beginning to understand.

Townes and Arthur L. Schawlow, under Bell Labs, are granted a patent for the optical maser.

At Hughes Research Laboratories, Theodore H. Maiman constructs the first laser using a cylinder of synthetic ruby.

Lasers appear on the commercial market, offered by companies including Trion Instruments, PerkinElmer and Spectra-Physics.

Elias Snitzer and colleagues at American Optical build and operate the first optical fiber laser.

In the first medical use of a laser on a human patient, a ruby laser from American Optical is used to destroy a retinal tumor.

Townes, Nicolay Gennadiyevich Basov and Aleksandr Mikhailovich Prokhorov win the Nobel Prize in physics “for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle.”

Sydor Optics Inc. is founded by optical pioneer Stefan Sydor.

Charles K. Kao, working at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories, determines that fibers of purest glass will allow better transmission of light signals over a distance of 100 km, compared with glass fibers available at the time.

Alfred Kastler is awarded the Nobel Prize in physics ”for the discovery and development of optical methods for studying Hertzian resonances in atoms.”

Teddi C. Laurin responds to industry demand by publishing Optical Spectra magazine. See story, below right.

The Laser Industry Association is founded.

RCA introduces a color video cartridge player called SelectaVision that uses laser technology and holographic images to produce full-color pictures on a standard home TV.

As shown by the maps here from the 1969 edition of the Directory, the US industry reflects a shift toward the western states. While it is not seen here, the global reach of the photonics industry now includes companies in Japan, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Israel. A total of 1931 companies are represented.

The idea of photonics as a separate technology was built throughout the decade, and researchers explored the use of photonic principles in applications ranging from imaging to communications. The average Optical Spectra reader was employed by private industry, was an engineer or a scientist with an advanced degree, was under 40 years of age, and was earning $14,000-$25,000 with a company he had been with for less than five years. He majored in physics or electrical engineering in undergraduate school. (Optical Spectra, May 1970)

Researchers at Ioffe Physico- Technical Institute and Bell Labs produce the first continuous-wave room-temperature semiconductor lasers, paving the way to commercialization of fiber optics communications.

Dennis Gabor is awarded the Nobel Prize in physics “for his invention and development of the holographic method.” Gabor tells Optical Spectra that, “As far as we can see, the great technologies will come from coherent optics – that’s pretty certain. I should also say that the big advances we can expect with reasonable certainty will take place in optical processing, with computers.”

The term “La Photonique” is coined by a French physicist to describe the use of photons in ways analogous to the use of electrons.

A pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum is the first product read by a barcode scanner in a grocery store.

Continuum Inc. is established.

H.J. Caulfield of Block Engineering tells Optical Spectra, “The success of coherent optics lies in the demonstration of its advantages over incoherent optics or digital techniques, and the necessity for its innovative methods in biology and medicine.”

“The birth of a new technology is always an exciting event. It is particularly so in the case of optical communications, an enormously promising technology that has been waiting in the wings for more than a decade and is now moving onstage with a burst of activity that bids fair to revolutionize the telecommunications field. ... [As major telecommunications providers] almost simultaneously move a new technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, one needn’t doubt that it is an idea whose time has come.” – Teddi C. Laurin, Optical Spectra, July 1977

A 1.5-mile underground fiber optic transmission system links Illinois Bell central offices and customers across three buildings.

Research Triangle Institute, in cooperation with North Carolina State University, reports a major step in proving the cascading solar cell concept, which could mean photovoltaic solar-to-electric conversion efficiencies above 30 percent.

That electronic mail thing will never take off! From the July 1979 Photonics Spectra: “Battelle researchers have reported that there are a number of obstacles to the future use of electronic mail – the generation, transmission, storage, disposition and display of business correspondence and documentation by electronic means. The greatest of these barriers is the unwillingness of managers to use the electronic mail systems directly, without going through secretaries, according to Richard J. Bengston, head of the Battelle study.”

In 1980, telecommunications was getting some attention in Optical Spectra, including the double-heterostructure light-emitting diode that operated at 1300 nm. It was equipped with a microlens that improved coupling with the optical fiber, from AT&T. The breakup of AT&T launched a new era in communications, with fiber optics at its core. National laboratories in the US and abroad applied laser technology to the alternative energy problem.

The Charles Hard Townes Award is established by OSA to recognize “outstanding experimental or theoretical work, discovery or invention in the field of quantum electronics.”

Nicolaas Bloembergen and Arthur Leonard Schawlow win the Nobel Prize in physics “for their contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy.”

Name of Optical Spectra magazine is changed to Photonics Spectra.

Worldwide PV production exceeded 9.3 MW.

The audio CD, a spinoff of Laser- Disc video technology, debuts. Billy Joel fans rejoice as his 1978 album, “52nd Street,” is the first to be released on CD.

Norsk LCD A/S of Norway reports that it can produce LCD cells measuring up to 30 x 30 cm with a proprietary manufacturing technique.

The market for high-resolution color graphics displays is on the upswing, thanks to a surge in the sales of computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems.

OZ Optics Ltd. is established.

Robert Zinter, a graduate student at the University of Rochester Institute of Optics, borrows from the fly’s compound eye to make an optical device consisting of a series of glass rods that produce wideangle views without the distortion inherent in conventional wideangle lenses.

Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer are awarded the Nobel Prize in physics “for their design of the scanning tunneling microscope.”

PCO TECH Inc. is founded as The Cooke Corp.

Ernst Ruska is awarded the Nobel Prize in physics “for his fundamental work in electron optics, and for the design of the first electron microscope.”

Directed Energy is founded in Colorado.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories achieve solar-to-electric conversion of 20.3 percent.

R&D budgets shrank, solid-state technology came on strong, and we put the pedal to the metal on the Information Superhighway. Optics and laser technology had reportedly reached a level of maturity similar to that of electronics in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In an editorial, Teddi Laurin wrote: “The impact of photonics is only beginning to be felt.” The image below is a miniature gear structure formed in the surface of a polished type Ib diamond substrate by 248-nm laser ablation.

As shown by the maps here from the 1990 edition of the Directory, the global reach of the photonics industry includes companies in Japan, India, Australia, South America and Israel. A total of 3178 companies are represented.

The image below of an erbium-doped fiber amplifier, pumped by an argon laser, appears in Photonics Spectra, courtesy of GTE Laboratories.

The first quantum cascade laser (QCL) is invented at Bell Labs by Jerome Faist, Federico Capasso, Deborah L. Sivco, Carlo Sirtori, Albert L. Hutchinson and Alfred Y. Cho.

A new generation of photonic technologies for process and quality control includes holographic inspection techniques, photontunneling microscopy and the use of narrowband tunable diode lasers in spectroscopy.

BioPhotonics magazine is launched by Laurin Publishing/ Photonics Media.

As optical fibers improve, various sensing techniques appear in manufacturing applications.

EuroPhotonics magazine is launched by Laurin Publishing/ Photonics Media.

The US Air Force approves a $1.1 billion antiballistic Airborne Laser system. Boeing, TRW and Lockheed Martin will build the 747-based system, which will use a highenergy chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL).

In response to increasing demands for higher information content and higher resolution in ever-smaller spaces, Silicon Light Machines develops a low-cost, reflective and entirely digital display based on grating light valve technology.

Steven Chu, Claude Cohen- Tannoudgji and William D. Phillips are awarded the Nobel Prize in physics “for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.”

The instruments market, including UV and visible spectrophotometers and spectrometers, is expected to grow to $170 million by 2003, riding spectroscopy’s move from the lab to the production floor, according to Business Communications Inc.

Industry experts predict that by the mid-21st century, photovoltaics will expand into the energy mainstream.

A new millennium – or maybe not – brought with it fears of the Y2K bug. Ultimately, it was not the end of the world as we knew it, but the bursting of the dot-com bubble a short time later sure felt like it. Military innovation, medical advances and basic research continued to find new opportunity in photonic technologies.

NKT Photonics is established.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Materials Sciences Div. discover a 0.7-eV bandgap of the semiconductor indium nitride. The finding shows that a single system of alloys incorporating indium, gallium and nitrogen can convert virtually the full spectrum of sunlight to electrical current.

The European Photonics Industry Consortium is founded by companies Aixtron, CDT, Osram, Philips and Sagem.

A nanostructured sample holder developed at Cornell University incorporates nanoholes that act as zero-mode waveguides, enabling the analysis of single molecules at more realistic concentrations.

Roy J. Glauber is awarded the Nobel Prize in physics “for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence.”

John L. Hall and Theodor W. Hänsch are awarded the Nobel Prize in physics “for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique.”

Researchers at Princeton University and at Universal Display Corp. construct a flexible organic LED (OLED) on a flat 9.5 3 9.5-cm sheet of plastic and deform it into a dome with a radius of 8.5 cm.

LED illumination is predicted to become a mainstream light source.

The Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA) forms the Silicon Photonics Alliance (SPA) to focus on market and business issues on behalf of its members who are engaged in the technology.

Stanford University researcher Dr. Karl Deisseroth receives a $1.5 million science and engineering grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to advance his research on controlling brain cells with pulses of light.

Charles Kuen Kao is awarded onehalf of the Nobel Prize in physics “for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication.” The other half was shared jointly by William S. Boyle and George E. Smith “for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor.”

DayOptics is founded.

By integrating a terahertz quantumcascade laser and diode mixer into a monolithic solid-state transceiver, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories successfully form a terahertz (THz) photonic integrated circuit that can provide improved control of the underutilized THz frequency.

Ivan P. Kaminow is awarded the IEEE Photonics Award “for seminal contributions to electro-optic modulation, integrated optics and semiconductor lasers, and leadership in optical telecommunications.”

Members of the Helios project in Europe demonstrate for the first time a 40-Gb/s optical modulator in silicon with a record extinction ratio of 10 dB, accomplishing a key project goal needed to build and optimize the entire supply chain for fabricating complex functional silicon-based photonic devices.

The National Ignition Facility’s (NIF’s) 192-beam laser system delivers a record-breaking 500 TW of peak power and 1.85 MJ of UV laser light to its target, validating the NIF’s laser performance specifications set in the late 1990s.

Nonionizing near-IR spectroscopy for brain imaging has found widespread application, especially with infants, the elderly or any patients who can’t easily be moved onto a scanner.

CLARITY (clear lipid-exchanged acrylamide-hybridized rigid imaging/immunostaining/in situ hybridization-compatible tissuehydrogel), a technique developed by Dr. Karl Deisseroth and a multidisciplinary team at Stanford University, yields a 3-D transparent brain with all of its important structures intact and in place.

A nanophotonic solar thermophotovoltaic (STPV) device from MIT combines PV and solar thermal systems to allow thermal energy storage.

The National Photonics Initiative (NPI) – an alliance seeking to unite experts from industry, academia and the government to advance photonics R&D, grow the US economy and improve national security – is launched in late May by a partnership of photonics societies: The American Physical Society, IEEE Photonics Society, Laser Institute of America (LIA), The Optical Society (OSA) and SPIE.

NASA’s Curiousity Rover lands on Mars in May and by early December, the laser instrument on board has surpassed 100,000 shots. Designed to fire 1 million shots, the ChemCam zaps rocks and dust with a highpower laser to determine their composition.

Researchers at Vienna University of Technology’s Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology demonstrate a fiber optic switch that uses a novel type of silica WGM known as a “bottle resonator.” The demonstration shows that a single atom can direct light from one fiber optic cable to a second one.

The Sony Triluminous HDTV becomes the first quantum dot (QD)–based display. It features excellent color purity provided by the QDs, near-unity emission quantum yields and narrow emission bands.

A team at MIT discovers a way to harvest solar energy more efficiently and potentially on demand. The new solar thermophotovoltaic (STPV) device combines photovoltaic (PV) systems, which turn sunlight directly into electricity, and solar thermal systems, which allow delayed use of energy, since heat can be stored more easily than electricity. While previous experiments have been unable to produce an STPV device with an efficiency of greater than 1 percent, this new device shows a measured efficiency of 3.2 percent. With further work, the team says, it could reach 20 percent efficiency.

Optical add-on kits convert everyday consumer electronics into scientific devices. Today you can turn your iPad into a spectrometer.

Industrial Photonics magazine is launched by Laurin Publishing/ Photonics Media.

The hidden junctures where different layers of materials meet could become less mysterious under a spectroscopy technique developed using the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. SWARPES, for Standing Wave Angle-Resolved Photoemission Spectroscopy, allows the selective study of buried interfaces between layers of metal oxides in nanotechnology with either soft or hard x-rays.

As shown by this map from the 2014 edition of the Photonics Buyers’ Guide, the global reach of the photonics industry now includes companies in China, South Korea and numerous countries throughout Europe. A total of 4051 companies are represented.

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