On Monday, OSA’s annual meeting, Frontiers in Optics (FiO), kicked into high gear with an excellent set of plenary talks, plus award ceremonies for both OSA and the American Physical Society (APS).
One of OSA’s young professional bloggers, Adam Zysk, paid special attention to the first half of the session. He mentioned OSA Honorary Member and Nobel laureate Roy Glauber’s childhood efforts to build a telescope -- which was one of the personal stories that inspired me to write an OPN feature article on amateur astronomy earlier this year.
Another one of our FiO bloggers, Bob Schoonover, covered the plenary talks by Andrea Ghez and Janos Kirz in a “live blogging” fashion. OPN Managing Editor Christina Folz did a lot of “tweeting” while Ghez was speaking -- to review her live updates, go to Twitter.com and follow @OPNmagazine.
By interviewing the Ives Medalist (with Quinn Endowment) Robert Byer on Sunday, I’d gotten a preview of his plenary talk, but I still enjoyed his complete lecture. Byer self-deprecatingly mentioned that in 1975 he had been “optimistic” that the total market for optical parametric oscillators would be about 50 units, but by today more than 10,000 of the devices had been sold. In 1988 he came out with “Byer’s version of Moore’s Law,” which stated that the cost of diode laser bars would drop to $1 per watt in 2004. That price was delayed for two years due to the telecom bust, but today diode bars cost roughly 10 cents per watt.
Byer, who has been at Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif., U.S.A.) for four decades, said that one of California’s highlights of 2009 was the Northrop Grumman Space Technologies demonstration of a 105-kW laser in January 2009 (I reported on that from CLEO/IQEC in June). “One hundred kilowatts does a lot more than cut metal,” he quipped. Another bright spot in Silicon Valley is the Laser Electron Accelerator Project (LEAP), which will use photonic crystal accelerator structures to blast electrons with more energy than copper-based technology. Finally, California’s National Ignition Facility finished its 192 beamlines this year and could create a “sun” in the lab for 10 picoseconds one year from now.
Of course, laser fusion is not the only way in which optics is involved in the field of renewable energy. A Monday FiO session covered such topics as photosynthetic generation of biofuels and optimization of photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation.
Tasios Melis of the University of California at Berkeley (U.S.A.) presented his continuing experiments to increase light penetration into colonies of small plants that generate biofuels. Ray Kostiuk of the University of Arizona (U.S.A.) said a holographic planar concentrator (HPC) could reduce the amount of expensive PV material required for a typical building’s solar-power setup. The low-cost holographic gratings placed above the solar cells would allow for large collection angles without the need for tracking the Sun’s daily path through the sky. A team from the University of New Mexico (U.S.A.) is developing quantum-dots-in-a-well solar cells, which could lead to lightweight thin-film arrays that are at least as efficient as rigid solar panels.
Schoolteachers attending the OSA science education program on Thursday evening will receive solar-cell kits among other materials for middle and high school classrooms. OSA is offering three renewable-energy topical meetings next June, and our open-access journal, Optics Express, will start publishing periodic “Energy Express” sections next year (submissions deadline for the first one is coming up on December 15).
Late on Monday afternoon I succumbed to my natural interest in astrophysics and wandered into the joint FiO/Laser Science XXV special symposium on gravitational wave detection.
Jeff Livas of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, Md., U.S.A.) talked about some of the technological challenges in designing the instruments for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA). NASA and the European Space Agency are jointly building a triangular space interferometer with an arm length of 5 million km, so noise reduction techniques will be crucial. The types of objects LISA will study include supermassive black-hole mergers, galactic close compact binaries, and extreme-mass-ratio in-spiraling objects (EMRIs), which could allow scientists to test general relativity to high precision.
Tuesday’s FiO schedule includes a special symposium on 3-D technology for the entertainment industry and the start of the topical meetings that constitute the OSA Fall Optics and Photonics Congress. Plus, our student members will bring their solar race cars back to the track for the final round of racing. Since it’s an overcast, rainy day in San Jose, it’s a good thing that the track is inside the exhibit hall!