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In Your Own Words

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2011

Our salary survey has a lot of facts and figures for you to digest, but we also wanted to find out some personal tidbits from various corners of our industry. What inspired people to get involved in photonics? What are their favorite instruments? And what will be the next big thing over the next five years or so?

To find out, we launched a social media campaign, polling users on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Read on to see what your peers had to say ... and you might even find your own responses below.

Q: Think back to a time when you decided to pursue photonics as a career. Can you identify a single technology or concept that got you hooked?

Glenn Fishbine: Well ... I was at a high-end department store looking for a wedding present and picked up a Mikasa wine glass with a black stem and noticed I could see a high-contrast image of my fingerprint. I was amazed. Didn’t know why it worked. So, a few years later, I started a biometrics fingerprint company, which produced the first widely accepted forensic-grade fingerprint-capture technologies for law enforcement.

Sunny Bains: I fell in love with holography when I saw my first holograms at the Ontario Science Centre when I was about 9. For years, I also kept pieces of plastic and wood that they burned with a big carbon-dioxide laser and let me keep as souvenirs. From then on, whenever I had a free choice of project in a science/physics class, it was optics all the way.

James Hauck: I thought lasers were neat and tried to build a dye laser; that did not work, but I was not discouraged and built many more lasers and other optical systems.

Dennis Hancock: It was the mathematics performed by optical signal processing that was the gateway toward a future of things optical – instrumentation, metrology, simulation, repairing the Hubble Telescope, assisting with DNA sequencing. Wish it could continue.

John Peterson: For me, it was a demonstration of a laser scanning system at our local high school. After seeing the technology and hearing the passion for the technology from the group giving the demonstration, I was hooked. Here was a growing industry, with a broad range of applications, and a chance to work at the cutting edge of research. It’s been a long and winding trip since then, but I still have the drive that was first kindled by that simple presentation.

Ian Kohl: Short-pulse lasers. Nothing like seeing the nonlinear effects that happen at such a high intensity.

Paul Constantinou: For me, I was introduced/helped into this field by two profs at my undergrad university: an astronomy prof I worked for during summers and a theoretical particle physicist who I took a number of courses with. To say that there is a broad separation between particle physics and astronomy is somewhat of an understatement – the scale differences between subatomic systems and galactic systems are about as large of a difference as you can get in nature, and I had no idea where in this vast range I wanted to focus my studies!

One day, I was passing by the office of the astronomy prof, and he pulled me in and told me he thought it would be great if I exposed myself to this “new” field of photonics. There was an industry-student retreat sponsored by the old PRO (Photonics Research Ontario) that had some spaces available, so I checked it out with a few classmates and had a great time.

A year or so later, when I was looking at grad school options, the particle physics prof recommended me to the Institute of Optics at U. of Rochester, and from there I was off to the races. I’m likely oversimplifying the career path story, and probably not doing justice to the many other people who helped me get to where I am, but it all started with those two profs at York University in Toronto, and I can’t thank them enough.

Mary Lou Jepsen: For me, it was the lenticular on the cover of my “Thumbelina” book I had as a little girl. I scratched to try to get inside the 3-D picture; to find that it disappeared was a mystery at age 3. I then started to study why, and it’s hooked me for decades.

Arie Draaijer: As a chemist, I became involved in developing fluorescence spectrometers for water-tracing applications during my traineeship. From one came the other. Photonics meant for me working in the fields of optics, electronics and chemistry: sometimes more optics/photonics (when working on developing a video rate confocal microscope), sometimes more chemistry (when working on optical sensors for CO2, pH and O2). It is now more than a hobby, it is an addiction. Photonics is everywhere.

Robert Lieberman: I was sitting at lunch in the company cafeteria when my boss, Angelo Lamola, walked up and said, “I know what we should be working on ... optrodes!” I had no idea what he was talking about, but he referred me to a couple of papers by Tomas Hirschfeld, and within a few weeks we were off and running, working on a fiber-tip pressure sensor in collaboration with Greg Blonder. I’ve been working on fiber optic sensors ever since, but as optical science moves into ever more exotic realms, my interest continues to expand. Now I find myself dipping into everything from plasmonics to metamaterials, “preaching” photonics to everybody from kindergarten students to congressional representatives.

Frank Leard: When I was 3 or 4, my mother had a front-entry clothes washer that flipped down so that, when the door was opened, you would be looking down through a curved window. I found out that if I filled the curved window with water, I was able to magnify ants and various things placed a certain distance away. I also found out that this distance changed depending on what liquid was placed in the bowl. My mother was not pleased when I used cooking oil.

Leonard Bordzol: My first technical job after the Air Force was making flash tubes at EG&G. I was fascinated that something with only four components could be so sophisticated and force me to learn so much. The transition from generating to measuring to controlling light was a very pleasant career progression.

Gord Leachman: My first real job out of university was selling high-end medical instrumentation into the OR, primarily devices that monitored the coagulation factor of blood during open heart surgery. I was shocked to discover that this was an optical sensor that functioned by the change in optical density of the blood (samples) as the effects of the anti-coagulants wore off. I was fascinated, drove everyone nuts thinking up apps for these sensors. Later, I was exposed to early intelligent cameras, gained expertise in lighting effects for machine vision, and now sell specialized photometers and spectroradiometers into industry for the monitoring and measuring of everything from applications in optometry to car headlights and digital cinema. Never heard of photonics when in school.

Mark Zacharria: When I met Imagine Eyes’ Nicolas Chateau for the first time, he told me “stories” about how adaptive optics could save the vision of millions of people. My maternal family has a hereditary form of AMD [age-related macular degeneration]. The chance of playing a tiny role in finding a tool that could save someone in my family’s sight was just too great of an opportunity to pass up. It has been well worth all the headaches I endured to understand it all.

Phil Burns (@phil_a_burns): Light sabers, what else?

Groot Gregory: If I can broaden the discussion to the larger field of optics, it was an article in Popular Science about laser fusion I read in high school. The University of Rochester was the center of the article, so I went there to study physics and work on lasers. Haven’t done anything with lasers in a long time, but optics has been rich enough for me to be happy I read that article.

Ding Siqi: If I do “connect the dots” thinking, it would be the telescope mounted in a football-like toy. The arm of the telescope can be stretched or compressed. Very cute toy. Then it’s interferometry. Now it’s polarization and second-harmonic generation. It’s so amazing to change lasers from one wavelength to another.

Robert Smythe: I began to fall in love with optics/photonics at 10 years old when I gave a report on lasers to my science class (1962). And then it blossomed while building telescopes and spectroscopes and an observatory in my teens; by then I was completely hooked.

Scott Wegner: It was a step stool in my kindergarten classroom. The top of the stool was inset with a magnifying lens, the focal point at the floor. It totally blew my mind! My fascination with light remained from that day forward. (The list of examples would be long.)

Jason Heyl: In 2009, I was offered one term of full-time co-op credit if I took “Intro to Lasers” at Cincinnati State. After taking that class, I was hooked. I took the other laser/optics courses offered and managed to work as a co-op student in the laser lab for the last year.

Chris McGoldrick: The Hubble Space Telescope. Having the opportunity to have worked on the JWST [James Webb Space Telescope] for even a short period, and I am hooked.

Mark Nelson: Started with lasers and holograms in high school. Lasers were so cool. Then tried building a Bragg laser with fiber optic and dye cell. Spent the entire quarter getting the school’s dye laser running and failed the fiber Bragg effort, but it got me a job at JPL [NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.], where I did fiber optic rotation sensor work and got into CCD cameras as sensors. Imaging is a fascinating, rich technology – and capturing people’s souls in silicon is a gas.

Hossein Alisafaee: When I was in the second year of my undergraduate studies, I attended a seminar on lidar: light detection and ranging. From that time, I decided to pursue optical science. And I am glad about that decision I made. Light is wonderful to work with and to study.

Raymond Alley: I remember it like it was yesterday. As with most of us growing up in the space age, I wanted to be an astronaut. I knew I needed college, so I joined the military to serve our country and obtain veterans’ benefits. While going to De Anza College in the Bay Area, I discovered there was a program for obtaining work experience at NASA Moffett Research Center. I became an aerospace engineering aide so I could get work experience. I ended up supporting development of a new diagnostic, the laser Doppler velocimeter, a new frontier for lasers in wind tunnels. Once I saw a laser in action, I changed my career goals so I could work with and build lasers. About 10 years later, I was an engineering physicist at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, where I got the opportunity to build and manage laser efforts. A dream come true.

John Sheridan: A magnified image and then, later, a hologram. Neither seemed to really make sense – I wanted to know why. Then Maxwell’s equations – not strictly optics/photonics technology, I know, but so rich and so incredibly powerful.

David McGloin (@DundeePhysics): Optical tweezers ... and Laguerre-Gaussian beams with orbital angular momentum

Anonymous responses on

• Biophotonic sensors
• Development of lasers
Fiber optics
• Lasers
• Raman
• Optical bicycle

Q: Your lab’s on fire! Quick – what one piece of photonic equipment would you take with you if you could?

Sarah Boisvert (@PotomacPhotonic): I’d take the old UV waveguide laser that started our company in early ‘80s ... no longer in production!

Jahan Dawlaty (@JahanDawlaty): My spatial light modulator

Nobuko Fukuda (@NobuKnob): —40 °C CCD camera

David McGloin (@DundeePhysics): My Laser Quantum Finesse laser

Alexander L. Wykel: Liquid helium used in Venturi Vacuum systems ... High Vac!

Viktar Zhurauliou: The thing that does not have a copy in the world.

Anonymous responses on

• HDD or expensive tool
• My iPad – carries all important data
• Optical design software key
• Radiant Imaging CCD camera
• Spectrometer

Anonymous responses from Photonics Media webinar poll:

• The 40-Gb sampling scope
• Regenerative amplified femtosecond laser
• Prototype QCL
• Our laser
• Myself
• My own built laser head; long lead-time items such as special optics
• My notebook
• My laptop with all the CAD files
• My eyeglasses; next, the pyroelectric Spiricon camera and Genentech pyrodetector
• My $60,000 fiber laser
• Lab book
• Integrating sphere!
• Infrared camera; I would like to watch the place burn down in the infrared.
• Handheld OTDR
• Flashlight!!! Seriously, I don’t work that closely with photonics.
• Femtosecond laser
• E-beam lithography
• Beam code camera

Q: What game-changing photonics technology will emerge in the next five years?

Alexander L. Wykel: The only thing they have not conquered is superlaminate energy lasing; think it will come in five years? Or do they already have that as well and just haven’t released it yet? I think the buck stopped here when they found “time-reversed lasing” and “dark light.” Dunno. Advancements in biophotonics: holographic plasma-induced tissue implantation. Genetic and protein systems that can rebuild and cure many things not yet possible – my best guess for the big scoop in advancement, but it’s not five years off. More like two or three.

@tritosine2k: Highest on my wish list is MEMS shutterglasses with integrated eye tracking. Also, better cameras with MEMS-integrated lenses.

Anonymous responses on

• LED lighting for general illumination
• Nanobiophotonics
• New solar cells
• Quantum computing
• It’s not about technology, it’s about costs, feasibility and ease of implementation.

Anonymous responses from Photonics Media webinar poll:

• Widely tunable laser sources
• Wide-spectral-bandwidth metamaterial optics
• Vacuum sources of light working on dynamic Casimir effect (virtual photons born out of vacuum and
      converted into real photons through the rapid change of the electric length of a superconducting circuit)
• Ultrasensitive photon detectors
• Silicon photonics
• Robust, industry-ready femtosecond pulsed lasers
• Nanotech-enhanced power output increase and price drop
• More high-power lasers for peacetime and war fighting
• Metamaterials
• Individually addressable UV laser arrays
• In a changing field, it’s very difficult to take a guess.
• High-power fiber lasers
• High-power compact fiber lasers, perhaps QCL too
• Gas fiber lasers
• Consumer LED lighting
• 3-D visualization

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Photonics Media:



Managing Editor

Laura S. Marshall: @lsmarshall

Features Editor

Lynn M. Savage: @photonics_lynn

The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
The technology devoted to the analysis of unique biological characteristics such as voice patterns and fingerprint, retina, iris, and hand and face geometry to determine or authenticate the identity of an individual.
The optical recording of the object wave formed by the resulting interference pattern of two mutually coherent component light beams. In the holographic process, a coherent beam first is split into two component beams, one of which irradiates the object, the second of which irradiates a recording medium. The diffraction or scattering of the first wave by the object forms the object wave that proceeds to and interferes with the second coherent beam, or reference wave at the medium. The resulting...
machine vision
Interpretation of an image of an object or scene through the use of optical noncontact sensing mechanisms for the purpose of obtaining information and/or controlling machines or processes.
The science of measurement, particularly of lengths and angles.
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