Light Enables Tomorrow’s Technologies

Living in a high-tech world, we don’t always stop to think about what enables us to video chat across the globe, detect cancer or even play an interactive video game. In all of these cases, a key enabler is photonics—applying light (photons) to advance technologies.

The Optical Society (OSA) has been a leader in the science of light for almost 100 years. As we approach the International Year of Light, our members are well positioned to create awareness of the importance light and light-based technologies. As a founding partner of IYL2015, OSA supports the IYL goal of “highlighting to the citizens of the world the importance of light and optical technologies in their lives, for their futures and for the development of society.”

OSA does its part to raise public understanding of optics and photonics through educational outreach programs, professional development opportunities, consumer education campaigns, advocacy activities and more. From OSA’s perspective, the importance of light is evident in the groundbreaking research that is published in our peer-reviewed journals and presented at our technical conferences—much of which serves as perfect examples of light as an enabling technology. For instance:

Smartphone Apps: Researchers used a laser to etch a waveguide directly onto a smartphone display—doing this opens the door to embedding apps such as temperature sensors and biomedical monitors into new real estate: the display glass itself.

International Year of Light 2015

An invisible waveguide (pathway for light) being written via laser into a smartphone’s display glass. Photo credit: Optics Express.

Space Communications: MIT and NASA recently presented their results from the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, showing how they were able to transmit data, via a laser, over the 385,000 km between the moon and Earth at a record-shattering download rate of 622 megabits per second.

Self-Driving Cars: A new LIDAR (“light radar”) system has been developed that can remotely sense objects across distances as long as 30 feet – which could one day enable your self-driving car to spot a child in the street half a block away, let you answer your Smartphone from across the room with a wave of your hand or play “virtual tennis” on your driveway.

Wearable Tech: Google Glass made its mass market debut earlier this year and researchers are working on ways to improve similar augmented reality technology by superimposing 3-D images on the display to reduce strain on the eyes. Meanwhile, a new biometric-sensing wristwatch that uses light to monitor glucose and dehydration levels is the first wearable device that can measure glucose concentration directly and noninvasively.

Urban Lighting: In response to ever-crowded urban conditions in developing countries, researchers in Egypt have developed an inexpensive way of re-directing natural sunlight into dimly lit streets and alleys, where lack of sun is linked to health problems.
Cases like these of how light and light-based technologies can improve our everyday lives are plentiful. OSA is excited to lend its voice and resources to showcase the role of optics and photonics in society on a global scale.

OSA has already kicked off its IYL programs with a Facebook Contest called “What Will You Do for IYL?” Chances are you have an idea or two of how to raise awareness for light – we’re giving away $500 to put the best ideas into action. Join us now and help us spread the word about the importance of light in 2015 and beyond.

International Year of Light 2015Elizabeth Rogan, CEO of the Optical Society (OSA).

As OSA CEO, Liz reports to the Board of Directors and is responsible for the oversight, strategic direction and fiscal soundness of programs and activities.  In addition, she is the Society’s spokesperson and advocate to a wide range of OSA constituencies, including its members, volunteers, co-sponsors and customers, throughout the global optics community. OSA is a founding partner of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015.


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