R. Winn Hardin
WASHINGTON -- Last month, the presidents of the two largest photonics societies asked their members what they thought about intersociety collaboration. So far, they report, the responses have been positive.
"The feedback has been heavily on the side of increased coordination with SPIE," said OSA President Gary Bjorklund, adding that specific suggestions from respondents ranged from "staff cooperation, rationalizing meeting schedules and education efforts, all the way to outright merger."
He cautioned, however, that the responses were not unanimous.
SPIE's, past president, M.J. Soileau, said: "I've gotten a sizable pile of e-mail, and it's overwhelmingly positive -- more along the lines of 'It's about time.' "
History of cooperation
Some SPIE members expressed specific concerns about the overwhelming proliferation of meetings, suggesting that collaboration could lead to better scheduling or some consolidation.
Bjorklund and Soileau are quick to point out that the societies have cooperated on several projects and meetings in recent years.
Others, however, warned that "when you talk about cooperation, don't mess up what's good about both organizations," said Soileau.
The comments follow a call to action from the presidents of both societies. Last month, they posted "symmetrical" letters on Web sites and in newsletters, soliciting members' views on further collaboration.
In a "from the president" letter published in the January issue of OSA's Optics & Photonics News, Bjorklund stated that "while some competition is good and serves to drive down prices and improve services, as in the for-profit world, too much competition has a downside in terms of duplication of meetings and publications. In many cases, meetings compete for the limited time and resources of people working in the community."
The letter to SPIE members, signed by Soileau and society President Roland Jacobsson, emphasized the need for adapting to rapid changes in photonics technologies.
"The global nature of our profession, the increased globalization of the world's economy, the blurring of boundaries between segments of optics and photonics, and the diffusion of boundaries between basic science, applied science and engineering are compelling reasons for members of various societies to examine ways to increase collaboration ...," they stated.
"We think the time has come for SPIE and OSA to go beyond cooperating on a few specific projects. It is our opinion that the societies should now consider ways to bring SPIE and OSA into a much closer collaboration that will benefit the entire spectrum of interests in the global optics and photonics community."
OSA and SPIE, established in 1916 and 1955, respectively, have a combined membership of 23,000, of which only 7 percent belong to both.
OSA, with approximately 90 employees, has its headquarters in Washington. SPIE, with a payroll of 110, is based in Bellingham, Wash.
The next step will be for ad hoc committees in both societies to make formal presentations to their respective governing boards, which will then decide whether to form standing committees to pursue further collaboration efforts.
Soileau said he wants members to understand that nothing will be decided until the governing boards meet.
Specific recommendations and comments may be released at a future date, Bjorklund added, but for the moment both groups are playing it close to the vest.
"We're just getting started," said Soileau. "We don't want to upset the process."