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SUSAN PETRIE, SENIOR EDITOR, [email protected]

After Photonics West, I stayed in the San Francisco area a few extra days. Poking around a store in Point Reyes, I noticed a book titled A New Map of Wonders: A Journey in Search of Modern Marvels. I didn’t need to leaf through before buying; it just felt right. A few days later when I started reading, I found my instincts hadn’t failed me, but they did surprise me: The first chapter was titled “Light.”

Susan PetrieThe essence of the book, written by British journalist Caspar Henderson, is laid out in a substantial introduction. Henderson notes that civilizations list and proclaim their wonders — things that possess a mythical force, that hold us in awe. But, like everything else, he says, wonder changes, and each age finds its own marvels. To Henderson’s point, of the Seven Wonders of the World, only the Pyramid of Giza remains. He goes on to elucidate his own list of seven wonders.

So what exactly is wonder?

In 1649, René Descartes listed wonder — l’admiration — as the first of the six passions. This passion is translated in Henderson’s intro as “a sudden surprise of the soul which causes it to apply itself to consider with attention the objects which seem to it rare and extraordinary.”

The fact that Henderson makes the case for photons as a new wonder is perceptive and, well, wonderful.

He continues with the idea that science and technology have typically been associated with progress. And, not without trepidation, he toys with the thought that an increasing fascination with tech novelties may be supplanting (even subjugating) features of the physical world previously considered list-worthy.

Is “novelties or nature” an either/or proposition? I don’t think so.

Consider the intersection of light-based technologies with natural and built environments in Valerie C. Coffey’s piece on smart structures. Experimental cities, such as those imagined by Walt Disney and Athelstan Spilhaus, may finally come to fruition. According to Coffey’s article, photonics technology will play a significant role in cities’ “greener” designs. Have a look at the accompanying photos to see how architecture, people, and photonics may integrate into a physical terrain.

Beyond smart structures, topics in this issue include hollow-core fiber optics, CMOS cameras, 3D imaging for industrial applications (read and read), and a look at how the arrival of smart positioning will enable simultaneous optimization of multiple photonic elements.

Henderson’s list includes other wonders — life, heart, brain, self, world, and future unknowns. They show, I hope, that our connection to the terrestrial won’t be supplanted by technology, but rather sustained by the deeper awe it enables.


Published: April 2019

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