The best way to predict the future

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Welcome to 2021, and all the clean-slate, fresh-start, corners-turned positivity that a new year represents. After the grueling economic, social, and political tumult of 2020, the inclination toward optimism feels both dangerous and unavoidable — much like our inclination toward prediction. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that attempting to predict the future can be a very hazardous business indeed.

With these hazards very much in mind, allow me to introduce Photonics Spectra’s annual trends issue.

Rather than relying on hubris, our coverage of trends borrows from the wisdom of computer scientist Alan Kay, who said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

The seven feature articles within these pages embody this approach by first surveying representative industry benchmarks for lasers, imaging, optics, and spectroscopy, and then exploring the potential benefits that impending advancements may soon deliver.

Marie Freebody kicks off the section with a report on the market demand that ultrafast lasers are driving for new optical components, and why industry collaboration will be critical to sustain this trend.

James Schlett’s laser processing feature zeros in on the use of coherent light to cut and weld glass materials and convert them into durable data storage mediums. Farooq Ahmed, in turn, examines how lasers are serving as tools as much as the subjects of laboratory research.

Our two imaging features — from Douglas Farmer and Hank Hogan, respectively — explore application trends for high-speed machine vision systems and cameras designed to peer beyond the visible spectrum.

A feature from Hamamatsu’s John Gilmore contributes perspective on how faster, smaller spectroscopy instruments are expanding conventional applications and probing new end markets. While three additional industry leaders — Richard A. Crocombe, Pauline E. Leary, and Brooke W. Kammrath — collaboratively report on how portable spectrometers are bringing analytical capabilities beyond the lab and directly to the sample in applications from forensics to cultural heritage.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating for the January issue: In addition to this month’s features, the issue is itself a first glimpse into a new future for Photonics Spectra that will apply a more journalistic and applications-focused approach to the technologies and industries we cover.

We’re not inventing this future so much as restoring past traditions. Either way, it’s another reason for us to be optimistic about 2021.

Published: January 2021

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