Fall conference roundup

Fall is the time for attending conferences, if you are so inclined.

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Fall is the time for attending conferences, if you are so inclined. A number of my colleagues told me last week at the OSA conference in Boston that they had not been back in their office for a number of weeks, as there were a few local job shop shows—ICALEO, MD&M Minneapolis, OSA HPLC, and FABTECH, not to mention a number of other application-specific venues like eye surgery, batteries, and ceramics, to attend. I would normally have gone to all of the above, but sometimes it is not possible to attend all of the interesting conferences all the time. Also, the industry is still strong, which becomes a bit of a problem in that there may be travel resources available because business is good, but there is no time because everyone is involved in getting product out the door and satisfying customer needs.

I chose not to go to FABTECH this year for a few reasons. First, there is a lot of duplication with IMTS, which was held in September. Second, the Atlanta venue for me has run its course, with several LIA conferences held there in the last few years in addition to the alternating FABTECH schedule. I have nothing against Atlanta, but the problem for me (and many other laser types) is that there is not a lot of business nearby where lasers are used, so vendors cannot multitask at the show by visiting customers in between interesting talks. Finally, it was held the same week as the OSA conference in Boston and, since it was closer and I was asked to give an invited talk, that is where I went.

The OSA Laser Congress and Exhibition is held every year, but alternates between U.S. and non-U.S. cities. The past couple of U.S. events have been in Boston at the Westin. This is very much an academic conference, even more so than ICALEO, and academic types usually do not have the kind of money necessary to stay at the Westin, so I would question their choice of venue for this reason. During the opening plenary talks, it seemed like there were less than 100 people in attendance—which is a shame because both talks were great. Professor Margaret Murnane (the ‘K’ in KMLabs, professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and one of the world's leading experts in femtosecond lasers) spoke about high-harmonic generation (HHG) and sources and then spoke about resulting advances in spectroscopy of materials. This work is leading to tabletop, x-ray analytical methods that are necessary for the advancement of the semiconductor industry, among others.

Norman Hodgson from Coherent then gave probably the most complete talk I have seen on ultrashort-pulse (USP) laser processing. Starting with the laser sources and building on the previous talk, Norman gave an overview of different laser architectures, current performance specifications, and possible future directions. He then gave a great presentation about the nature of laser material interaction with primarily femtosecond lasers and presented guidelines for process optimization with regards to pulse duration and laser wavelength. Among the recommendations was that usually pulse energy is too high and, theoretically, the optimum processing fluence is 8X the threshold fluence. He also explained why we see the Valley of Death in the several-hundred picosecond range, where processing results are usually pretty bad when compared to going to shorter and even longer pulses.

There were two sub-conferences—the Advanced Solid State Laser (ASSL) and Laser Application (LAC) conferences. The ASSL has been the historical driver of this meeting and the LAC is hoping to gain traction. I have been told that they are taking great care to make sure that this conference does not conflict with ICALEO, but given its content and the close timing between the two, it is hard not to wonder if the vendors in particular are getting much bang for the buck. A number complained to me that the conference was "ICALEO light" and several of the talks were almost identical to what I saw in FL a few weeks ago. Also, like ICALEO, I do not see this conference growing with the laser industry in the few times I have attended. One thought that was circulating at the show is that perhaps only during the years when the OSA conference is in the U.S., the two societies could cooperate and have a combined show? It might be something to think about if the two societies can cooperate—just a thought.

I am always interested in hearing your thoughts concerning laser micromachining, the laser industry, comments on entrepreneurial endeavors, etc. AND … we are always looking for fresh, publishable material. Please feel free to contact me at rschaeffer072657@gmail.com.

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