(Re)introducing the Photonics Spectra Reference Chart

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DANIEL MCCARTHY, SENIOR EDITOR Anyone remember the year 1986? The average price for a gallon of gas in the U.S. was 89 cents. Lionel Richie topped the year-end Billboard charts with his song, “Say You, Say Me.” You could buy a Tandy 600 portable computer — with a CPU clocking in at 3.07 MHz and 32 kB of RAM coming standard — for only $1500. And the 1986 Nobel Prize in physics was divided between the developers of the electron microscope and the scanning tunneling microscope.

Another defining event from 1986 was the launch of our seminal Photonics Spectrum Reference Chart. For over three decades, it has provided an at-a-glance reference for common optical materials and detectors, as well as a map of major commercial laser lines. During that time, the chart’s visually striking look also earned it a brief stretch of television fame as a “sciencey” prop on the set of “The Big Bang Theory.”

As those of you with a print subscription to Photonics Spectra discovered this month, the latest edition of our reference chart is enclosed with the issue. (Those of you who have a digital subscription or who wish to order extra copies can navigate to

It was challenging enough 35 years ago to pack all optical materials, detectors, and commercial laser lines into a format that could fold into the binding of the magazine. At some point since then, “challenging” became “implausible” and implausible became “impossible.”

Thus, when preparing the 2021 edition we decided that sometimes “less is more.” The result — rebranded as the Photonics Spectra Reference Chart — applies a more selective, streamlined approach to make its data more immediately accessible, intuitive, and visually navigable.

The latest optics section, for example, filters out materials used strictly for optical coatings or windows and domes to sharpen the focus onto common lens materials. We were even more stringent when updating the laser data. Commercial laser lines pose enough risk to eyesight without trying to pack them all within the space allotted on our chart. Instead, we decided to purge system-based laser technologies to target the most widely used active laser media.

We are deeply grateful for the expert support and guidance from participating reviewers. They include David Hagan, associate dean for academic programs at CREOL, The College of Optics and Photonics at the University of Central Florida; John Ballato, professor of materials science and engineering at Clemson University; Joel Bagwell, senior staff systems engineer at Elbit Systems of America; and a team of experts from Hamamatsu, including senior applications engineer Dino Butron, applications engineer Columbine Robinson, and product manager Gary Spingarn.

Published: November 2021

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