SPIE Photonics West, the US industry flagship conference, was held in San Francisco, CA, during the week of February 9, 2015, and it was again a huge success based on the number of attendees and exhibitors. This is even more significant when you consider that another major trade show involving photonics, MDM West, was held the same week in Anaheim, CA. Normally these two shows occur on different weeks, but within a two-week time span. This year, though, many vendors and attendees were forced to choose one of the shows over the other, with a large number of people trying to do both shows for a day or so. In addition, the East Coast was hit with a series of snow storms and icy weather that caused cancellation of numerous flights and prevented a large number of people from attending either show.
I chose to spend my full time at Photonics West while a colleague attended the medical show. The annual PennWell Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar, held on Monday, registered over 125 attendees from over a dozen countries and discussed market and technology trends in photonics. The Seminar highlight for me was a great presentation (by Dr. Gary Tearney of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Mass General Hospital and Harvard Medical School) discussing the use of photonics in medical applications and, in particular, comparing today's 'reality' with technology proposed in an old movie from 1966 called Fantastic Voyage. Every young man my age saw that movie, starring Raquel Welch, where a space ship is shrunken and injected into the human body, with views as it progresses through the different physiological systems. As it turns out, our ability to 'see' into the body using current photonics-related technology has probably even surpassed some of the assumptions made in this 48-year-old film. It was an amazing visual journey through the body.
I am constantly asked if anything "blew me away" at the show and I cannot put my finger on anything that did, but if anything I am surprised and delighted to see that the cost for photons, almost across the spectrum, continue to drop. In particular, this applies to the cost of ultraviolet (UV) and also of ultrafast-pulse (UFP) photons. It is now possible to get 40W output power at 355nm for significantly less than $100K. Also, there are products on the market with picosecond pulse lengths and 5W of output power also coming in under $100K. Both examples above are accompanied by a reduction in size in both the laser head and power supply, with more than a few products integrating both into one unit.
Of course, the conference was held the week following the news of the death of Dr. Charles Townes and it certainly was with sadness that he was remembered in many ways during the show.