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Photonics Spectra
Since 1967, Photonics Spectra magazine has defined the science and industry of photonics, providing both technical and practical information for every aspect of the global industry and promoting an international dialogue among the engineers, scientists and end users who develop, commercialize and buy photonics products. Stay current with a FREE subscription to the digital or print edition.

Latest Issue
Dec 2019

Material girl

On River Street in Troy, N.Y. — the city where I was born and raised — there is a brownstone building that I’m particularly fond of. It overlooks the Hudson River and has a pair of commemorations on its front doorframe. On the right, an engraving recognizes the spot where the great fire of 1820 was halted. On the left, a worn bronze plaque reads: “Twas the night before Christmas when all thro’ the house…” (Many will recognize the popular Victorian poem credited to Clement C. Moore, but may not know it was first published in Troy in 1823.)

Running my fingers across the stone, tracing the script and touching the edges of the raised metal letters, I realize how much I enjoy my connection to a city with a muscular past, made by hand, formed of brick, iron, stone, fire, wood.

I realize, though, that coming up behind me are many who don’t necessarily share that aesthetic, and have no particular affinity for the difficult and dirty histories that accompany (post) industrial cities. Its materials of grit and brawn are clearly different from the new materials of photonics, which are flexible, additively manufactured, lab-grown, photoresponsive, and (with luck) nontoxic and renewable. These new materials swim, flex, and self-fold.

Recently, Alphabet’s proposal for a smart city in Toronto — Quayside — has been in the news. It seems to have characteristics of both a sustainable city and a corporate surveillance city. Dangling sustainability in exchange for data mining isn’t, in my opinion, the ideal. I think we can do better. Of course, I am eager to see how photonic materials and technologies will be used to solve the pressing problems of waste and energy consumption. I am just as eager to see how design boards composed of more and varied voices will influence, plan, and build new infrastructures that demonstrate that we’ve learned from past mistakes.

I’m glad I don’t live in Victorian society. But I am drawn to the lushness of material culture and the natural world woven together in Moore’s poem: bricks … shutters and sashes … hurricanes of dry leaves … mice, reindeer, and eagles … thistle down. It’s a reminder of the stuff of humanity that we make, touch, feel, haul around, and discard, and the stuff of nature that we need.

I hope the designers of smart cities can find a way to minimize the great plumes of flotsam and jetsam we leave in our wake. At the same time, I hope new cities will represent greater inclusiveness and improved awareness of the needs of all forms of life.

Have a fantastic holiday season, and to all a good night.
Mike Wheeler
An accomplished journalist and editor, Michael Wheeler oversees Photonic Media's editorial operations, spanning print, online, and video. He also serves as editor of Vision Spectra, chronicling advancements in the rapidly expanding machine vision/inspection sector.
Susan Petrie
Susan Petrie is Senior Editor of Photonics Spectra and has two decades of experience with print and digital publications. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Bennington College.
Doug Farmer
Senior Editor Douglas Farmer has been a journalist for nearly 20 years, winning awards for health and education reporting. He has a master's degree in journalism from Ball State University. He is editor of EuroPhotonics and BioPhotonics magazines.
Robin Riley
Multimedia/Web Editor Robin Riley has 30+ years of experience in communications and marketing for a range of technical industries. She is a regular contributor to web content and social media, and organizes and produces custom and editorial webinars.
Valerie Coffey
Science writer Valerie C. Coffey holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s in astronomy. She has covered optics, photonics, physics, and astronomy for a variety of industry and academic publications since 2000.
Hank Hogan
Contributing Editor Hank Hogan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He worked in the semiconductor industry and now writes about science and technology.
Marie Freebody
Contributing Editor Marie Freebody is a freelance science and technology journalist with a master’s degree in physics and a concentration in nuclear astrophysics from the University of Surrey in England.
Farooq Ahmed
Farooq Ahmed has covered the physical and biological sciences for over a decade. He has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Brown University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Columbia University.
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