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Photonics for a Better World

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Karen A. Newman

I like the sound of that. I think it could be a great tag line for the industry: “Photonics, for a Better World.” In reality, “Photonics for a Better World” is the name of a special pavilion at SPIE Optics & Photonics, which was held in August in San Diego. The pavilion, which made its third appearance at the annual event, is the brainchild of Pamela Robertson, SPIE’s industry relations and marketing manager. In a special Light Matters interview from the show floor, Robertson told Photonics Media senior editor Melinda Rose that she created the pavilion based on a question she hears a lot: “What are you doing, and how does it relate to my everyday life?” The pavilion is designed to promote the end products of industry research, and it features organizations using photonics for the betterment of the global community.

One such organization is One Million Lights (, whose mission is “to improve the daily lives of children and adults by providing clean and healthy lighting.” It does that by distributing rechargeable solar lights to people and communities around the world. The basic lamp comprises LEDs and an integrated solar panel to deliver eight hours of clean, bright light for such important daily tasks as working, cooking and doing homework. The solar lights replace less safe – and less environmentally friendly – lighting options such as kerosene lamps.

The pavilion also included a nanotech demo area and a special focus on astronomy. The end products of nano research on display included synthetic nanomotors for sensing applications and nanotube-based photomechanical actuators with applications in microscale medical devices that can be decoupled from a circuit. On the astronomy side, the James Webb Space Telescope was represented, as was the Turning Eyes to the Big Sky Project – a science curriculum enrichment outreach project sponsored by SPIE, NASA and Montana State University.

It feels good to know that the results of countless hours of industry effort are being put to good use in the world. Not that it’s a big surprise. But it has particular impact when you see it presented at a show and can talk with those directly involved. You can see Robertson’s complete interview on Light Matters at

As long as we are focused skyward, consider the article in this issue by Alana Achterkirchen of Radicon Imaging titled, “CMOS X-Ray Sensors Enable Gamma-Ray Astronomy.” She suggests that the answers to many long-standing questions in high-energy physics could be found by studying gamma-ray-producing phenomena in the universe and shows how CMOS sensors can help. Read the article beginning on page 56.

When you return to Earth, check out “The Rise of the Service Robot” by contributing editor Marie Freebody. Service robots are just one more way that photonics is helping to create a better world. They are poised to revolutionize medical care, surveillance and the military. Read the story beginning on page 40.

As we prepare for Vision 2011, coming up in November in Stuttgart, Germany, consider that annual sales of professional service robots are about 13,000 to 15,000 units per year, valued at about $3 billion, according to the International Federation of Robotics in Frankfurt, Germany. This excludes the sale of about 1.5 million to 2 million units of personal, domestic service robots, including vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and toy robots. And photonic technologies will continue to drive and define the robots’ rise and roles.

Enjoy the issue.

Photonics Spectra
Oct 2011
The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
Alana AchterkirchenAmericasastronomyBasic ScienceCMOSCMOS sensorsConsumerdefenseEditorialenergyEuropeimagingJames Webb Space TelescopeKaren A. NewmanLight Matterslight sourcesMarie FreebodyMelinda Rosemicroscale medical devicesnanonanotube based photomechanical actuatorsOne Million LightsopticsPamela RobertsonPhotonics for a Better Worldphotonics in daily lifePhotonics MediaRad-icon Imaging CMOS X-Rat Sensors Enable Gamma-Ray Astronomyrechargeable solar lightsSan DiegoSensors & Detectorsservice robotsSPIE Optics & Photonicssynthetic nanomotorsThe Rise of the Service RobotsTurning Eyes to the Big Sky ProjectLEDs

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