Here’s to the First 50 Years

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Tom Laurin, President

Late last year while clearing out the contents of my parents’ basement, I came across several heavy metal plates with raised lettering. No ordinary printing plates, these plates had history: They were used to print early editions of Optical Spectra in the 1960s.

Back then, printing was labor intensive. Movable type was locked into a chase and then eventually pressed against the paper, transferring the ink to the page.

Even preparing mailing labels was primitive in comparison to how it’s done today. We’d load up the family station wagon with tray after tray of IBM 80-column punch cards and head out to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where we had an arrangement to use one of the university’s mainframe printers — a process that required multiple trips and took five days.

The old punch cards and printing plates are tangible connections to the earliest days of the magazine when Teddi and her hardworking staff set out do something special: to create what would become a nascent industry’s pre-eminent publication.

“Here, in this one spot, we are involved with one pursuit — spreading a glimpse of optics to an area that is engaged in its many facets,” Teddi wrote in an editorial in January 1967.

It was a rousing vision for a heady time.

The field of optics was undergoing a profound transformation, driven by the emergence of the first commercial laser seven years earlier. The laser — and its related optics — would touch virtually every industry, from science and medicine to telecommunications, defense, manufacturing and space exploration.

Optical Spectra would experience growth and change, too, exemplified in the decision to rename the magazine. In the 1970s, a growing circle of researchers had adopted the term “photonics” to convey how photons behaved in ways analogous to electrons. Ultimately, Teddi and my sister Diane agreed and — in a dramatic move — Optical Spectra gave way to Photonics Spectra — the name it bears today.

There’ve been other notable changes — too numerous to mention — to the magazine along the way. What hasn’t changed is our commitment to the mission Teddi set forth half a century ago.

Special to this issue are excerpts from the first issue of Optical Spectra and the inclusion of a feature by longtime industry friend Bruce Walker, who served for many years on our advisory board. His first piece was published with us in 1968. Fittingly, Bruce looks back on the field of stereoscopic viewers and ahead with a new lens design suited for today’s virtual reality headsets.

More retrospective pieces are planned for the year ahead. Thank you for reading — and here’s to the next 50 years!

Published: January 2017
First 50 Years - Special SectionTom Laurinoptical spectraTeddi LaurinBruce Walker

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