Beacons of the Photonics Industry

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‘Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ — Theodore Roosevelt


As part of the annual Reader issue, Photonics Spectra is unveiling a new recognition program called The Beacons. Selected from nominations put forth by you, our readers, the distinction is reserved for those in the industry who have made significant contributions in the areas of entrepreneurship, research and education.

In the pages that follow, we profile all of this year’s honorees. Among them you’ll find a high school science teacher from Rochester, N.Y., who, in four short years has created a thriving precision optics fabrication program. You’ll also learn how an accomplished scientist is leading a NASA-funded program to help a cadre of young interns acquire the skills needed to succeed in the remote sensing field.

Among our Beacons for the researcher grouping, we split the designation into the categories of “Leadership” and “Unsung Hero.” For the former, we feature a post-doctoral researcher whose work in the “Golden Window” involves near-IR wavelengths for non-invasive imaging of brain and breast tissue.

In a nod to those with an entrepreneurial vision, we highlight the work of the co-founder of one of Germany’s pre-eminent machine vision companies, whose contributions to object recognition software can be seen in thousands of manufacturing facilities worldwide.

Congratulations to all of this year’s honorees!


Richard BoudreaultRichard Boudreault, Aerospace Technologies Inc.

Researcher Richard Boudreault’s contribution to photonics “spans more than 35 years in laser imaging, photonic materials, image recognition, earth and space telescopes, intersatellite optical links, and vision systems for the robotic manipulator of the space station,” according to his friend and colleague Robert Boily of Inforex Inc., who nominated Boudreault for this designation. Boudreault describes his career in simpler terms: He uses physics and engineering to solve problems, “turning wrongs into rights.”

Boudreault led international teams to the successful development of two laser imaging systems: one designed for biological research in vivo on small laboratory animals, and the other for nonionizing detection of breast cancer, offering an alternative to x-ray imaging. Boily notes the latter was the world’s first time domain laser-fluorescence system for medical imaging.

Boudreault also developed several optical technologies for space applications flown on spacecraft from the European Space Agency and NASA. As CEO of Orbite Aluminae, he led corporate R&D on advanced materials, namely high-purity aluminium oxide (HPA) and rare earths. HPA is an important material for the manufacture of LEDs, sapphire crystal glass, fiber optics, flat displays, smart phone screens and other optical elements. Orbite Aluminae technology produces high-quality HPA using a green manufacturing process. Sustainable environmental systems — including the optical measurement and management of methane gas emitted from permafrost — are among his ongoing paths of inquiry.

In addition to his research and business leadership, Boudreault has also taught internationally at the university level. He has authored 15 patents, with another 69 pending. In his career, he has founded six private and four public ventures as a principal, as well as three national-level centers of excellence. Boudreault expresses a rare combination of entrepreneurship and technical prowess, and he described the M.B.A. program he attended to Photonics Spectra as “translation school.” He earned this degree after having already launched various projects and enterprises. He found it gave him the framework and, most importantly, the language skills to effectively interact with financial stakeholders. He said such skills enabled him to better communicate the market potential — and broad social benefits — of the technologies at hand.

Boudreault holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Montreal. He also studied international environment at the University of Quebec, earned his M.B.A. with a focus in innovation management and finance from the University of Sherbrooke, and earned his M.Eng. at the Cornell School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering.

Stephen GriffinStephen Griffin, InnovaQuartz LLC

Stephen Griffin, founder and chief technology officer of InnovaQuartz, acknowledges that advocating for science and logic are part of his 21st century job description. The inventor and entrepreneur was nominated as a Beacon by his business partner Brian Barr, who said that in the field of fiber-optic laser energy delivery for surgery, Griffin’s multidisciplinary training and unique insight allow him to formulate solutions to fiber optic surgical device problems well before the balance of the field can articulate a cause.

With over two dozen patents issued or pending, products based on Griffin’s works dominate fiber-optic medical devices for lasers in interventional urology, and his current research aims to disrupt the broader field of endoscopic laser medicine. Among his inventions are polychromatic surgical lasers capable of actively tuning the output spectrum in response to spectroscopic feedback from tissues in targeting the disease state, while sparing adjacent healthy tissues. His multifunctional lateral and circumferential delivery optical fiber devices can maintain high transmission efficiency during prolonged and high temperature soft tissue contact, while simultaneously gathering tissue data.

The commercial and clinical success — and thus, broad reach — of Griffin’s work is due in part to his ownership and responsible management of intellectual property. Griffin told Photonics Spectra that he “took ownership of the process early on, even before I had a clear idea for a patent,” reading patents and case law in the field, and performing his own prior art searches; this preparation work itself yielded patent ideas.

“An inventor who commercializes his devices must involve himself more deeply in the patent process because patents are the principal available barrier to competition,” Griffin said. “Keeping the giants at bay — or better yet, capturing their investment — requires strong intellectual property.”

Griffin has also continuously participated in education of his customer base, especially in the surgical laser field. He’s watched the peer-reviewed communication pathway devolve into blogs and social media, and remains a staunch supporter of peer communities that support “intellectual battles,” while at the same time, citing the opportunity social media presents to quickly and broadly educate target end-users, ensuring great ideas make it out of the R&D lab and into the clinic.

Griffin earned his associate’s degree in electronics from the USAF School of Advanced Aerospace Sciences and a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Arizona State University, where he also performed graduate work in analytical chemistry.

Lingyan ShiLingyan Shi, Columbia University

Post-doctoral researcher Lingyan Shi was nominated for the Beacon honor by Robert Alfano, a professor at the City College of New York, who cited her work in the “Golden Window,” a near-infrared region being explored for noninvasive imaging of brain and breast tissue. Her research interests include cardiovascular biomechanics, microscopic transport modeling, the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and drug delivery. Her primary research focuses are in vivo quantification of BBB permeability and its regulation by chemical and physical stimuli on a rodent brain microvessel model using multiphoton near-infrared femtosecond laser microscopy.

Shi is an active member of SPIE, serving as chair of two Photonics West conferences, as well as a topical committee member. She has authored or co-authored more than 25 papers, and also reviews textbooks and journals. An active member of the Society for Neuroscience, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, OSA and IEEE, among other organizations, Shi has taught high school and undergraduate students about state-of-the-art photonics technologies.

These days, Shi told Photonics Spectra she’s using stimulated Raman scattering microscopy to study the metabolism of cancer and neurologic diseases. She also hopes to discover or develop molecules that emit in the Golden Window, in addition to developing the laser in that wavelength range, and a photodetector in shortwave-infrared regions such as InSb and InGaAs detectors.

Biomedically minded from an early age, Shi found inspiration to enter the field of photonics as an undergraduate at Tianjin University in China. Her program offered access to medical devices for study and, as she said, playing around in the lab. Many of the diagnostic tools used light, leading to Shi’s realization of light’s importance in medicine.

“Lingyan Shi’s research will stimulate the use of supercontinuum sources in visible, NIR and SWIR, extending into MIR, along with advances in photodetector arrays in these spectra regions, [and] will usher in a wide scope of photonic applications,” Alfano said.

Shi holds a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Tianjin University, an M.S. in biomedical engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in biomedical/medical engineering from The City College of New York.


Bill BrocklesbyBill Brocklesby, University of Southampton, Optoelectronics Research Centre

As light-based applications increase in complexity, so does the need for highly skilled workers with photonics and optics backgrounds. Creating a workforce that can develop, improve and implement photonics technologies requires teachers who are not only knowledgeable but also passionate about their field, whose enthusiasm is contagious, and who are equally proficient in the subject and in how to share their knowledge with students.

Bill Brocklesby, an associate professor at the Optoelectronics Research Centre of the University of Southampton, U.K, is an educator whose passion has motivated students, and whose knowledge has given them a strong start in the photonics industry and the confidence to pursue their career goals. He was nominated as a Beacon by former student Stuart Nunn, who spent two years studying photonics while an undergraduate at the University of Southampton.

“During [my] time [at Southampton] I had the pleasure of having Dr. Bill Brocklesby as one of my lecturers. His passionate teaching delivery and knowledge of the field and related applications of the field was an inspiration for me to pursue the field of photonics in industry,” Nunn said, adding that Brocklesby’s guidance has served as “part of the foundation that has since helped me to consult the photonics component choices within these industries.”

This is a testament to Brocklesby’s strength as an educator, and his passion for photonics.

Paul Conrow, East High School

When East High School science teacher Paul Conrow first met with the executive director of the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster several years ago, his vision was to develop an ophthalmic lab at East High to provide glasses for students who could not afford eyewear. Once he learned more about Rochester’s optics industry and potential career paths for city high school students, he developed both the opthalmic lab and an optical fabrication lab. Conrow has since become the driving force behind the school’s optics program.

Conrow started the precision optics fabrication program four years ago as a single, general elective class offered to juniors and seniors. Fifteen students were part of the first-year course, and by its third year, the program had expanded to include multiple sections and approximately 50 students. He then began offering classes to sophomores, too.

Now in its fourth year, the optics program at East High continues to grow. A third section has been added to the Fabrication 1 level, and a Fabrication 2 level section has been introduced. During the last school year, classes also included freshmen students.

Conrow continues to expand the optics program. Recently, he approached a local coating company about adding coatings to the subject matter covered in one of the program’s fabrication classes. As a result, a machine for coating was purchased and will be installed in the optics lab at the school in the coming academic year. Conrow works closely with local business leaders, as well, to understand the needs and goals of the industry, ensuring the program supports workforce development for the ever-growing optics industry.

Conrow, who was nominated for the Beacon designation by Alan Parsons of AccuCoat Inc., said his hope is that students will continue their pursuit of higher education in optics, and that through training and hands-on experience they will be armed with the skills they need to enter the optics fabrication workforce upon graduation.

Michele KuesterMichele Kuester, DigitalGlobe

An expert in space-, airborne- and field-based Earth remote sensing, Michele Kuester leads a team of interns in a hands-on program offered through the NASA-backed Colorado Space Grant Consortium (COSGC). Her young “space cadets” learn how to be calibration scientists, using an ASD Inc. FieldSpec 4 to measure the spectral reflectance of calibration targets, and other instruments to measure atmospherics. She helps prepare her interns for a challenging career in space science by teaching them how to develop protocols for equipment use, write code for data assessment, research weather history to better understand outliers, and set up equipment.

As the lead scientist responsible for the absolute radiometric calibration of DigitalGlobe VNIR and SWIR multispectral sensors, Kuester is able to provide her group of interns with unique insight into the surface and atmospheric measurements of calibration made at the time of a sensor overpass. Interns learn how a radiative transfer model is used to predict the top-of-atmosphere radiance that the sensor should be reporting for the calibration target(s).

“Thanks to Dr. Kuester’s leadership and expertise, many of Colorado’s college and university students now have hands-on field experience, as well as the experience of working as part of an aerospace science team,” said nominator Betsy Kenaston, who works as a webinar planner and moderator for ASD Inc. “Dr. Kuester’s energetic guidance and willingness to share her extensive knowledge has brought them closer to achieving a career in aerospace.”

Kuester holds a Ph.D. in atmospheric and oceanic sciences from the University of Colorado Boulder, and has more than 15 years of experience in the Earth remote sensing field. In addition to Earth remote sensing and absolute radiometric calibration, her areas of expertise include ecological remote sensing, radiative transfer and atmospheric dynamics. Her work at Westminster, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe involves the calibration and validation of the radiometric response of Earth-observing sensors.


Alan J. LeszinskeAlan J. Leszinske, TecMed Inc.

Alan J. Leszinske has supported optical entrepreneurs as much as he has been one. He is CEO and chairman of TecMed Inc., a Cheyenne, Wyo., medical technology intellectual property (IP) company with a blood glucose management solutions portfolio. The company, which he founded in 1995, has a unique business model that grew out of his diverse experience in research, finance and management.

Leszinske’s work has yielded four patents, with others pending in the U.S. and 38 other countries worldwide. He has also developed advanced electro-optical switches for imaging and sensing/detection for government, military and aerospace applications. From 1994 to 2007, Leszinske served as president of the Complex Light Valve Corp., an Albuquerque, N.M., R&D company that focused on electro-optical applications and the development of intellectual property. In addition, he served as the principal of Contract Funding & Acquisition Inc. — an Albuquerque private capital organization that provided equity capital to 14 startup companies and other support in the form of project management and oversight — from 1992 to 2007.

More recently, a privately held company has received a license for Leszinske’s optics-based measurement technology, and with that is developing an automated blood glucose measurement instrument and device designs for use in surgical and critical care environments. TecMed is marketing advanced designs for these applications to commercialization partners for manufacture and distribution.

“Quietly and with an aversion to the limelight, Alan has worked to create, develop and refine optical technology that will usher in new standards in patient care and diabetic home monitoring. His vision and insight have led to game-changing technological breakthroughs and unheralded advancements in electro-optical components and applications,” said Steven Schroeder, a contractor and colleague at TecMed, who nominated Leszinske for this honor.

Leszinske was also nominated for the Beacon designation by colleague and advisor Dr. Vincent Figueredo of the Thomas Jefferson School of Medicine, and Andy Braman, a colleague at TecMed.

Leszinske received his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts general studies with a focus on experimental methods and statistical/probability analysis from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.

Carsten StegerCarsten Steger, MVTec Software GmbH

For more than two decades, Carsten Steger has played an important role in bridging the gap between machines and vision. A co-founder of MVTec Software GmbH in Munich, where he is also the company’s research director, his work on image understanding and object recognition has helped advance machine vision technology, particularly in the international automation industry.

Steger was a driving force behind the development of MVTec’s HALCON product, which is standard software for machine vision with an integrated development environment. In 1996, Steger founded MVTec with three of his research colleagues at the Technische Universität München (TUM) Department of Computer Science. Since then, he has been awarded five patents for systems and methods for various types of object recognition and automatic parameter determination.

“Mr. Steger has been dedicated to push scientific research at MVTec forward and therefore has been playing a key role in strengthening the advancement of machine vision technology in international industry automation,” said Steger’s nominator, Jörg Stelzer, a communications consultant for Schwartz Public Relations.

Steger received his doctorate in 1998 from TUM, where he has served as an adjunct professor since 2001. He has co-authored more than 80 scientific publications, including several books, such as Machine Vision Algorithms and Applications (Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH, 2008). According to information from Google Scholar, Carsten’s works have been cited over 3,600 times. Since 2013, he has served on the German Association for Pattern Recognition’s technical committee. He is a past recipient of the American Society for Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing’s Talbert Abrams Grand Award, and the 5th International Conference on Quality Control by Artificial Vision’s Best Paper Award.


Russell Lidberg, St. Cloud State University (SCSU)

Visiting scholar Russell Lidberg works in photonics and optics research, with labs focusing in several areas: laser/materials interactions, nonlinear optics, chemical sensors and optical materials for sustainable energy. His photonics lab, in particular, investigates novel methods of studying solid state materials. His work has made a positive impact on his students, including Rita Schwieters, a student in his lab at SCSU in Minnesota who nominated him for this Beacon recognition.

“Thanks to [Lidberg], I feel confident in my ability to perform advanced photonics research, and I know my colleagues in his lab feel the same,” she said, noting that he is revered as a supportive, highly skilled instructor who takes on students who have minimal optics backgrounds but an interest in this field of study.

Lidberg is a faculty member for the Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials and Devices research group, within the College of Science and Engineering (COSE), and served as the director of the Center for Microscopy Imaging and Analysis in the Integrated Science and Engineering Laboratory, a student-centered science facility in COSE. According to information from SCSU, he has also served as a liaison between the school and regional industry, and is one of the core developers of specialty programs in materials science and nanomaterials. He also organized (in collaboration with NanoVox) a series of workshops focused on nanotechnology and industry, which were held at SCSU.

“A large part of [Lidberg’s] teaching approach is to incorporate industrial skills that will help us become successful in industry or graduate school,” Schwieters said. “He helps us build confidence in our ability to do photonics research.”

He has also backed students’ research and work, including for SCSU’s Student Research Colloquium Proceedings, annually since 2005. There, he has sponsored numerous student presenters in topics such as Four Wave Mixing to Characterize Solid State Materials, Photophysics of Organic Materials by Pump-Probe Spectroscopy, Scanning Kelvin Probe Characterization of Rubrene Single Crystals using Atomic Force Microscopy, and Enhancement of Charge Carrier Mobility in Single Crystal, Small Molecule Oligocenes.

Outside of the academic realm, Lidberg co-authored a paper published in 2015 in Applied Physics Letters — Temperature dependent c-axis hole mobilities in rubrene single crystals determined by time-of-flight. The paper focused on his team’s study of “hole mobilities (μ) in rubrene single crystals (space group Cmca) along the crystallographic c-axis … as a function of temperature and applied electric field by the time-of-fight method.”

Murthy Chavali, Vignan University

In addition to being dean of international relations and director of the Center for International Affairs at Vignan University in Andhra Pradesh, India, Murthy Chavali is a veteran professor and researcher, with more than 20 years in the classroom and the lab. According to a former colleague and collaborator who nominated him for this honor, Chavali has made a positive impact on the industry as a whole, as well as on numerous students, many of whom have gone on to post doctoral and Ph.D. programs; some are even now leading their own labs.

He has had papers published in at least 160 industry journals, in addition to nearly 200 research reports. He has been a familiar face at various conferences worldwide, having made 187 presentations, as well as 55 poster presentations. Chavali has also been cited in at least 10 book chapters, holds four patents and has served as a guest lecturer at institutions more than 200 times.

Outside of his academic and R&D accomplishments and influence, Chavali was named a Top 40 Under 40 on the Power List in 2014 — presented by The Analytical Scientist, a U.K. publication focused on analytical science, chemistry and technology in agricultural, environmental, food, forensic and pharmaceutical applications — as a top influential analytical scientist, for his contributions to photonics R&D.

In addition to his work, Chavali is involved with several professional societies, as noted by Vignan University — the Laser Association of India; the International Frequency Sensor Association in Ontario, Canada; the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in the U.S.; the Society for Automotive Engineers in Japan; the European Association for Cancer Research, based in Nottingham, U.K.; the International Society for Optical Engineering in the U.S.; and the Asia Pacific Nanotechnology Forum in Australia.

Among Chavali’s research interests are optical waveguide technology, IR sensors, LIF, chip-based chemical and biochemical sensors, analytical chemistry, nanomaterials and nanotechnology. According to his nominating collaborator, Chavali’s current research focuses on areas of photonics, nanotechnology applications for gas and liquid sensor applications, as well as synthesis and fabrication of various organic and inorganic nanostructured materials, and nanosensor array technology.


Photonics Spectra asked its readers to weigh in on questions relating to work in the photonics industry.

Here’s what they said.

1. What advice would you give to your younger self, when you first became interested in photonics?

Work abroad when you are still young. Start a company if you have a good business idea.

Read everything! Keep current with each new development.

Learn more.

Write articles and papers as soon as possible, and as many as possible, as fast as possible.

[Know that] photonics is the technology that is going to cover 75 percent of the market in the coming years.

2. Which photonics technology is likely to go by the wayside in the future? Which technology is here to stay?

Imaging [is here to stay], as a tool for quick analysis in all its forms.

Photonics is too big an umbrella term. Those that fit will stay; those that do not fit will not die, but will wander off.

It’s very difficult to describe what type of photonics will fade away as “old tech.” On a global scale, tech is often acquired by measure of economic means. This format … is global, hence, some entities will have the newest technology while other entities will have the oldest technology. The future of photonics has a bit more clarity with regard to “new, shiny reflective technology” — that’s here to stay.

Plasmonics [is here to stay]. Incandescent lamps will pass away. LED technology is [here] to stay.

Fiber optics [is here to stay].

3. Did you have a mentor who helped shape your career? Why was he/she so important?

No [mentor]. I actually stumbled from electronics into electro-optics and lasers, thence into photonics about four decades ago.

[My mentor] encouraged me to leave a research organization and to join the industry.

Published: July 2016
The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
Richard BoudreaultAerospace TechnologiesNASAInnovaQuartzfiber opticsStephen GriffinLingyan Shiraman scattering microscopyUniversity of SouthamptonPaul ConrowMichele Kuesterblood glucose measurementMVTecoptical spectroscopysemiconductorsnanotechnologyMurthy Chavaliwaveguide technologyIR sensorsBill BrocklesbyAlan LeszinskeTecMedCarsten StegerRussell LidbergFeatures

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