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Biophotonics has plenty of room for pioneers

Sep 2012

Our world has lost a number of groundbreakers in recent days, and while it will be a different place without them, it already is a better place because of them. Neil Armstrong took the first walk on the moon, and Sally Ride was the first American woman to make the trip into space. In photonics, Elias Snitzer is considered the father of the glass laser, and Isaac Kaplan found a purpose for the CO2 laser.

Kaplan, who died in August at the age of 93, was a pioneer in the creation of the first carbon dioxide laser for general surgery and founder of the International Society for Laser Surgery and Medicine.

While Armstrong said that circumstance gave him the role of first man on the moon, Kaplan had a plan. In her news report on his death for, senior editor Melinda Rose writes, “When it was developed in the 1960s, Kaplan said, the CO2 laser was without application. His goal was to research the application of the new ‘miracle technology’ while developing an apparatus that could put the application to work in general surgery.” (

Armstrong, Ride, Snitzer and Kaplan are rarely spoken of in the same breath, for sure, but each broke new ground in his or her area of expertise. And, while the job of “pioneer” is often a one-person enterprise, each breakthrough creates new opportunities for exploration and innovation.

Today, biophotonics innovators receive their inspiration from many disciplines and from all kinds of places, including yesterday’s view of tomorrow, Star Trek. We have so not heard the last of the tricorder, and that could be a very good thing for all of us.

In an article in this issue, contributing editor Gary Boas says, “The Star Trek television series and movies have proved remarkably prescient in anticipating the future.” In “The Age of the Tricorder,” beginning on page 24, Boas describes a new generation of sensing and imaging diagnostic devices, many with origins in smartphones with cameras and data-transmission capabilities, and tells us to expect to see more such devices in the future. The brilliant sparks of inspiration that mark the early careers of so many trailblazers are game-changing, to be sure, but it’s the work that continues outside of the spotlight, often for decades, that leads to true greatness.

Neil Armstrong also said, “I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work.” After his walk on the moon, Armstrong worked for NASA and taught aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati. After NASA, Sally Ride taught at the University of California, San Diego, and encouraged girls and young women to study math and science. Snitzer and Kaplan had long careers that included research, innovation and education. All proved that there are many ways to affect our world and our future.

Also in this issue, James Hermanowski of Nathaniel Group Inc. explains that xenon light sources represent the benchmark for medical illumination but cannot couple light through the small channels used for microendoscopes. His article, “Light Source Helps Endoscopes Get Smaller and Smaller,” starts on page 31.

In “Multimodal Label-Free Imaging Drives Biomedical Research,” James Lopez and Yiwei Jia, of Olympus America Inc., describe how label-free noninvasive, nondestructive optical microscopy using multiple simultaneous techniques allows researchers to observe diverse life processes in real time. Find the article on page 20.

And, finally, optical fibers with higher light transmission and longer life spans offer interesting new solutions for meeting the growing demand for higher quality lighting in medicine, according to Karen Holst of Schott AG in her article, “New Glass Fibers Widen Range of Medical Lighting Applications,” beginning on page 28.

Enjoy the issue.

glass laser
An optically pumped solid-state laser in which the active medium is a neodymium ion in a glass rod host. Abbreviated Nd:glass.
Age of the TricorderAmericasBiophotonicscamerascarbon dioxide laserCO2 lasersConsumerEditorialElias SnitzerEuropefiber opticsGary Boasglass fibersglass laserimagingimaging devicesInternational Society for Laser Surgery and MedicineIsaac KaplanISLSMJames HermanowskiJames LopezKaren A. NewmanKaren Holstlaser surgerymedical illuminationmedical lightingMelinda RosemicroendoscopesMicroscopymultimodal label-free imagingNathaniel GroupNeil Armstrongoptical fibersoptical microscopySally Ridesensing devicesShcottStar TrekTricorderxenon light sourcesYiwei Jialasers

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