Keeping a close eye on the future
Apr 28, 2011 1 comment
Christopher Dainty discusses what lies ahead for the global optics community
The Optical Society of America (OSA) was founded in 1916 with the mission "To promote the generation, application, archiving and worldwide dissemination of knowledge in optics and photonics." Based in Washington, DC, it has a staff of about 130 and an annual operating budget of around $30m (€21m). With more than 16,000 members in 95 countries, including some 220 active student chapters in 48 countries, the OSA serves about 100,000 optics professionals globally. Christopher Dainty is the society's current president; he is also professor of applied physics at the National University of Ireland in Galway. In recent years his research has focused on adaptive optics and other aspects of imaging.
How would you assess the current state of optics science and technology, both in academia and industry?
Very healthy indeed! Optical science ranges from the fundamental to the highly applied, and there have been many examples in recent decades of fundamental science leading to applications – think of lasers, fibre optics and detectors. There is a huge optics and photonics industry, with sales estimated by the industrial association Photonics 21 to be about €270bn a year. In Europe, photonics has recently been elevated to the status of a "key enabling technology", along with the usual suspects of nanotechnology and biotechnology. In short, optics is thriving.
What do you see as the OSA's role within the international optics community?
The OSA publishes some of the world's top-rated journals in optics and photonics, and with 80% of our authors coming from outside the US, it is de facto a global organization. More than half of our student members are also from countries other than the US. In fact, students and recent graduates are particularly well served by the OSA, with many grants, leadership and global networking opportunities available.
What do you see as the main challenges facing those involved with optics science and technology? How can the OSA's initiatives help address those goals?
The challenges facing those working in optics are really the same as for those working in many other fields of science: keeping up to date with the latest developments; and effective publishing, networking and collaboration on a global scale. And as in many other fields, professional societies such as the OSA help to meet these goals. The OSA focuses in particular on its peer-reviewed journals and publishes or co-publishes 15 titles in different sub-fields of optics, including the leading open-access journal Optics Express. We are leading the way in many new developments in publishing – for example, "interactive science publishing", where authors can publish multidimensional data sets that readers can interact with and interrogate. The OSA also organizes a limited number of high-quality peer-reviewed topical meetings around the world and co-organizes major conferences such as the Optical Fibre Conference (OFC) and the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO).
How does the OSA plan to develop?
At present the OSA is working to serve optics professionals more effectively wherever they may be in the world. China, India and South America are three areas where the growth of all science and technologies is advancing rapidly. The OSA wants to help everyone in optics realize their potential for personal development, whether it is in teaching, research, industry or government. We try to do everything to the highest possible standards. In publishing we are focusing on new technologies, such as XML, and on the challenges of open-access publishing, where we already have a lot of experience.
What aspects of basic science do you think will have the biggest impact on optical science and technology over the next 20 years?
That's a difficult one. During my 40-year career in optics, I've been wrong so many times I am probably the last person you should ask. But since you do ask, new optical materials have got to come near the top of the list. These will lead to new technologies and devices, which in turn will lead to new discoveries – I am a firm believer that science and technology feed into each other and are complementary. The laser was 50 years old last year, but I still think that new tunable low-cost lasers (costing a few euros) will emerge and enable all kinds of new applications. Imaging detectors, such as those based on CMOS technology, are also dropping in price and I believe that ubiquitous imaging (i.e. imaging every-where) will be with us in a decade. And who knows, even quantum computation might produce new consumer devices. One thing I am certain of is that basic physics, chemistry and maths are key disciplines that will underpin advances in optics in the foreseeable future.
About the author
Christopher Dainty is president of the Optical Society of America