Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A world of photonics acronyms explained

Photonics Building Blocks blog is a recent addition to the Laser Focus World and OptoIQ websites. Every week, contributing editor Jeff Hecht not only defines acronyms commonly used in photonics, but provides background on the terms along with sometimes amusing insights. A blog is not a cure for too many acronyms, but it can be a good guide to translation.

We thought of launching this blog because a technology-based profession like photonics is rife with critical and confusing acronyms, as any engineer, student, or journalist in the field can tell you. Simply reading the table of contents in our magazine or a society journal can be daunting--and who better than Jeff to help clarify things? He has started with a neat write up on the No.1 acronym, LASER. Then it's on to DFB.

While I'm on the subject of our website, we have redesigned, which is one of the websites in our online network that includes LFW (Laser Focus World), ILS (Industrial Laser Solutions), BOW (BioOptics World), and SU (Strategies Unlimited). The OptoIQ site is now focused on photonics business and education (EDU).

The EDU side of the site features links and news from and about universities, community colleges, company-sponsored training courses, grants, and awards. It also has regular blogs from our editors and guests. Please let me know what you think.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Photonics education; where to begin?

For the April issue of Laser Focus World, we will feature an article on "Photonics Education" that was envisioned to complement the new education resources that appear on our OptoIQ home page. If you haven't visited OptoIQ lately, go to and select the Photonics Education tab. There, you'll find the following:

Particularly helpful is the Resource section halfway down the Photonics Education page, which includes an education locator, courses and tutorials, and information on how to find a job in photonics.

And now, back to the discussion on the feature article. We struggled with the topic for a while, considering that there are hundreds of academic institutions that offer courses specific to optics/photonics/optoelectronics and of course, basic physics or engineering degrees with an emphasis in optics or optoelectronics. And although we have decided to focus the April article on profiling some of the best photonics institutions in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, we would like your feedback on future blogs, columns, and feature articles related to photonics education and any suggestions on how to improve our Photonics Education website.

Specifically, if you are a student interested in pursuing a career in optics/photonics, just how did you get interested in the photonics discipline? What tools did you use or would you like to use in order to select an academic institution? Have you considered a technician degree rather than a BS, MS, or PhD? What resources would be valuable to you to advance your career in photonics?

If you are already employed in the photonics industry, is your company currently working with any academic institutions in the way of internships, recruiting, or other educational initiatives? Do you have feedback on your own educational experience in photonics that would be valuable to students considering this career path?

Customer feedback is extremely important to Laser Focus World. As we launch these new initiatives, we would like to understand how to add value for our customers. Don’t be shy! Please contact if you think you can help answer any of the questions posed above. And for inspiration, check out the many videos on photonics careers and education on YouTube by searching "photonics careers" or "photonics education". Here is a good one from SPIE:

We look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions very soon!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

CLEO Innovation Award deadline draws near

If your company has an innovative product or service and will be exhibiting at The Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) in San Jose, May 6-11, then now is the time to enter the Innovation Awards.

Again this year, CLEO and Laser Focus World have put out the call for submissions to their annual Innovation Awards, which honor exhibiting companies that have demonstrated outstanding leadership and made significant contributions in advancing optics and photonics. 

The winning entry will be presented during the Plenary & Awards Session on May 8. The winner and all finalists will be highlighted in pre- and post-show promotions and official onsite conference materials, including the Conference Program, Exhibit Buyers’ Guide, CLEO press release, and conference signage.

Last year the top award went to Applied Research and Photonics (Harrisburg, PA) for its terahertz scanning reflectometer. Honorable mentions went to AdValue Photonics (Tucson, AZ) for its 2-micron Q-switched fiber laser and ID Quantique (Geneva, Switzerland) for its advanced system for single photon detection.

Submissions must be received by Monday, March 5; please submit entries online at:

From the 2011 Innovation Awards:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Spectroscopy for everybody else

I've just come across a tangle of connected websites that have to do with do-it-yourself spectroscopy -- meaning REALLY do-it-yourself, like building your own video spectrometer from a DVD-R (as the grating), a USB webcam, and an old VHS box or some such.

This interested me, especially as someone named Adam Hasler has been using one of these homemade spectrometers to test different types of wine. I am one of those people who have no doubt that wine is the nectar of the gods; in fact, my idle (very idle) websurfing was how I ran across this wine/DIY/spectroscopy thing in the first place.

The sites I found are mostly part of the Public Laboratory for Open technology and Science (, which describes other fascinating open science projects as well, such as balloon aerial mapping, air-quality measurements, and others, all for which you can build your own equipment from commonly found items.

Anyhow, Adam and his friends tested wines, including (with URLs for their spectra):

2009 santa barbara pinot noir:
2009 clos de vaulicheres epineuil:
2010 simfebvre_sauvblanc:
2010 talmardchardonnay:
2010 honig sauvblanc:
2010 riffualt sancerre:

According to the website (see, at the wine testing (no, I didn't misspell that), Adam described the background of each wine and its place of origin, and "we spent some time discussing how to improve readings and sample prep for this early stage prototype instrument."

These DIY spectrometers have also been used to make other measurements that, although not necessary for one's survival, are interesting (to me, anyway), such as an Android phone / iPhone LCD spectral comparison (maybe a little hard to see here):


Along with plans for a DIY spectrometer (or a $30 kit, if you're so inclined), there is open-source software called Spectral Bench ( that is described as being "in alpha, though with some configuration it should run on Linux, Mac, or Windows."

Specs for the spectrometer:
-- around 400-900 nm range, maybe wider (what you can see with the naked eye, plus some infrared)
-- 5-10 nm spectral resolution
--20-30 samples per second
-- ~ $10 in materials
-- < 1 hour construction time

Because I didn't come across any sort of conclusion for the wine experiment, my assumption is that the researchers are still in a very early phase and have many years of experimentation left.

Monday, February 6, 2012

High-contrast gratings bring new meaning to "integrated" optics

Gail Overton
Senior Editor
Laser Focus World

Photonics West is such a condensed week of awesome photonics technology that it is next to impossible to describe even a fraction of the best presentations and papers. But I was particularly impressed by the Tuesday, 24 January OPTO Plenary presentation by Connie J. Chang-Hasnain, UC Berkeley research professor (and incidentally, an editorial advisory board member for Laser Focus World), entitled "High-Contrast Metastructures for Integrated Optics."

Chang-Hasnain presents her work with such enthusiasm! I found myself, along with the audience of several hundred, paying close attention as she described the incredible science behind how a periodic structure of lines can act as a highly reflective mirror, a high-Q resonator, a focusing element or lens, a vertical in-plane coupler, and even be used to fabricate a slow-light waveguide--no kidding.

The website for Chang-Hasnain's CCH Optoelectronics Group at UC Berkeley at explains the functionality of high-contrast subwavelength gratings in much detail. But in brief, high-contrast gratings (HCGs) have alternating stripes of semiconductor materials and air (or silicon) with subwavelength periodicity. And unlike distributed Bragg reflectors with narrowband operation, HCGs can be as much as two orders of magnitude thinner and are both broadband and sensitive to the incident polarization state of the input.

IMAGE: Unlike conventional diffraction gratings, the high-contrast gratings (HCGs) developed by Connie Chang-Hasnain's group at UC Berkeley have a grating period that is nearly one wavelength; that is, between the incident wavelength in air and that divided by the high refractive index of the grating material. (Courtesy Weimin Zhou, U.S. Army Research Laboratory)

She describes how mathematical simulations can be used to analyze the behavior of light as it passes through the HCG device; rigorous coupled wave analysis (RCWA) and other modeling software can determine the physical parameters of an HCG (length and width of the line structure and line separation or period) and how those parameters can translate into a user-desired light-guiding function. For example, the versatility of HCGs is proving critical in the development of lower-cost, better-performing vertical cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) in a single epitaxial step, which is a major area of study for Chang-Hasnain's group.

There is even an ABC News report on the HCG work as shown in the YouTube video below:

Imagine replacing bulky optoelectronic devices with thin, smart layers that are engineered to perform particular functions. As the number of research papers and "integrated", silicon-photonics-compatible components continues to grow based on this architecture, HCGs--"a new platform for integrated optics" in the words of Chang-Hasnain--will become commonplace in (and critical for) the photonics engineering community.

Friday, February 3, 2012

And the Oscar winner is--a laser film recorder

On February 11 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award of Merit will go to ARRI, which makes professional motion picture equipment, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques (IPM). They are winning for their jointly developed ARRILASER film recorder.

The Academy Award of Merit honors personalities who are responsible for a technical achievement that “has demonstrably contributed to improving filmmaking processes in a significant way.” Franz Kraus and Johannes Steurer from ARRI (Munich Germany) and Wolfgang Riedel from the Fraunhofer IPM (Freiburg, Germany) have each been awarded an Oscar for the design and development of the ARRILASER.

The jury declared that this laser film recorder "demonstrates a high level of engineering resulting in a compact, user-friendly, low-maintenance device, while at the same time maintaining outstanding speed, exposure ratings and image quality." Extracts from the Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation should appear during the "main" Oscar ceremony on February 26.

The ARRILASER uses three solid-state lasers. For each color channel one acousto-optical modulator modulates the laser output according to the color information of each pixel of every digital image.

Although the ARRILASER wasn't credited by any of the Best Picture or Best Cinematography nominees, the majority of films were shot with other ARRI cameras. Now the ARRILASER won’t be such a silent partner.