It’s a good question, and one that everyone working in photonics has at one point found an answer to: what is it about this particular part of the electromagnetic spectrum that proves so interesting and worthwhile to form the basis of a career?
For me, admittedly in the early stages of such a career as I grapple with the nonlinear optical properties of nanomaterials and attempt to exploit these to develop better pulsed lasers for a PhD, it’s the sheer potential of light and light-based technologies that fascinates me. This might seem a bold claim, and in itself insufficient to tempt young scientists to the optical table and away from the seemingly-glamorous ‘city jobs’ that so often beckon. However, it’s true, and to prove this I’ll briefly outline the work experience projects I undertook as a student that convinced me – all optics-focussed, but not optics as I’d previously known it.
Sometimes what we lose can be just as important as what we gain. The loss of something that has influenced our culture for millennia can change our culture’s perspective of the world around us. Yet if change happens slowly, we may not realize we have lost anything. Case in point: what if a starry night sky had never inspired Van Gogh to paint “Starry Night” or Holst to compose “The Planets” or Shakespeare write sonnets that encompass so much astronomy.
Finland is one of the luckiest countries in the world when it comes to light. And I’m not just talking about our Midnight Sun, when the Sun will not go behind the horizon for a long time in the northern parts of the country, like Lapland, and when it’s possible to read through the night without any artificial lighting even in the southern parts of our country.
Finland: The land of a thousand lakes. Or actually 187 888 lakes. Photo credit: Pasi Vahimaa