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16 January 2017

Understanding the brain through photonics collaborations

Raphael Yuste discusses work in brain mapping
in a new video interview with SPIE.
Rafael Yuste and his research group at Columbia University are trying to image the neural circuits of the brain in hopes of gaining a better understanding of how the brain functions.

However, said Yuste in a recent tour and video interview of his lab with SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, “The methods in neuroscience have not been there yet.”

Ysute is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Circuits at Columbia. He and David Boas (director of the optics division of the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School) chair the new Brain applications track at SPIE Photonics West 2017 in San Francisco, running 28 January through 2 February.

Using novel optical techniques such as two-photon and nonlinear microscopy, Yuste’s lab is trying to bring 3D imaging to the activity of the neural circuits inside the brain. It isn’t yet understood how these circuits work, but it is believed that this is where behavior and mental states are determined.

“Unless we have the basic understanding of the biology of the tissue that generates these diseases we are not going to be able to go in intelligently and cure them. It’s kind of like trying to fix a car if you don’t know how it works,” Yuste explained.

Originally trained as an M.D., Yuste switched to basic neuroscience because of his frustration with trying to treat schizophrenic patients and patients who have mental or neurological diseases.

“I’m sure everyone has family or friends who suffer from mental disorders or neurological disorders and you know very, very, well that there are no cures for these diseases as of today. There is nothing we can do for these patients. We treat them by trying to bring down their symptoms, but without attacking the cause of the problem, because we do not know what the causes of the problem are.”

Yuste’s lab is one of many labs worldwide working on imaging the brain and its functions. Recent increases in federal funding including the BRAIN Initiative have brought a new energy to discovering how the brain functions and how to better address mental illness through the physical sciences.

Bringing these researchers together to discuss their successes and failures is an important part of advancements in the field, he notes.

“Neuroscience has not profited from advances in physical sciences as much as it could,” he said. “SPIE Photonics West is an ideal venue for the transfer of expertise from the physical sciences and engineering into biology and neuroscience. And we need to build a bridge, to have people who know how to build and operate microscopes and design optical systems with biologists who need methods to answer particular biological questions. “

The Brain applications track is organized to bring together all the presentations that have to do with this interface between optical methods and neuroscience, Yuste said, highlighting some of the most interesting work being doing in the field and discussing multidisciplinary collaborations to move the work forward.

Yuste also will give a talk in the Neurotechnologies plenary session Sunday afternoon (29 January) during Photonics West.

View more about content and participants in the SPIE Photonics West playlist on YouTube/SPIEtv.

09 January 2017

#FacesofPhotonics: Educated

Among the #FacesofPhotonics: Student Leadership
Workshop participants at SPIE Optics + Photonics
Guest blogger: Emily Power is a 2016 graduate in communications from Western Washington University, and most recently social media intern for SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. She blogged on responses to the SPIE #FacesofPhotonics campaign, to share the stories of SPIE students around the globe. This is the second of four posts.

One of the many perquisites of being a student in the optics and photonics field is being able to pass along knowledge to those who will follow your footsteps in the future. Throughout the #FacesofPhotonics campaign, it became clear that current SPIE students thrive on educating a younger generation while simultaneously working diligently on their own academic careers.

In this post, we feature students who have educated others as well as themselves.

Teboho Bell
Teboho Bell is from the Republic of South Africa, and is involved with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Optics Student Chapter in South Africa. He is currently a researcher for the CSIR in the National Laser Centre. He shares the story of his favorite outreach event:

“I was visiting my hometown during South African National Week; I went to two high schools that are there, gave a public lecture about lasers and optics, and on career paths after high school. Most importantly, I motivated the scholars before their final exams trials.

In addition, Bell notes, “Our student chapter bought about nine textbooks to give to those scholars to share since they do not have study materials. The textbooks we gave as awards for answering questions based on the public lecture that was given.”

Elizabeth Bernhardt and friend
Elizabeth Bernhardt is a doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant in Department of Physics and Astronomy at Washington State University. She studies nonlinear optics, and is very involved with the student chapter at her school. She tells two stories of her involvement with the education of young minds:

“It's the little moments that make life the very best,” Bernhardt said. “Our OSA/SPIE chapter created a laser maze; during the grand unveiling, there was a little kid who was super-afraid of the lasers. He was so worried he was going to die! I asked him if he could help me get to the other side to refill the candy bowl, and we worked together to get through the maze. When he realized the lasers wouldn't hurt him, he kept getting in line to go through the maze again. His mom had to drag him home after an hour or two, and he was crying!

“Another little moment I really liked was when a fifth-grade girl explained polarization to her clueless classmates. We had the kids make polariscopes. When the girl offered her explanation as to why the polarizers behaved the way they did, it was so thorough and so awesome that I took a video. I keep the video on my photo so I can watch it when science is not going well.”

Guillermo Sanchez
Guillermo Sanchez is an SPIE member and PhD student in the Department of Mathematical Physics at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León. He was involved with the pioneering of outreach events within his chapter, and he shared from is experience:

“I got involved in optics and photonics back in 2010, as a bachelor student with the student chapter at my university. I was involved as an officer. That year I assisted at my first optics and photonics event and fell in love with optics when meeting this awesome community. Our chapter organized the first ‘Optics 4 Kids’ event, with a few experiments. It was the first outreach event of its kind at our university!

“When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I continued my studies at my university and started to study optics with a solar illumination project, the first project in non-imaging optics in our facility.”

Kate Clancy
Kate Clancy is a biomedical engineer and biochemist from San Francisco, California, with a master’s degree from McGill University. She was heavily involved in the SPIE Student Chapter at McGill — she helped establish it! Her passion for educating others shines through in her story about the International Year of Light (IYL) event her chapter sponsored:

“At our event, our chapter partnered with the astronomy club to do long exposure photography of the stars, and also with sparklers while teaching about different light phenomena. It was a great moment to see students and the general public coming together and sharing their knowledge and ideas all the while having a good time playing with lights, cameras, and lasers and enjoying free snacks. We got some amazing photos from it and lots of good memories!”

For full stories, follow @SPIEphotonics on Instagram or check out the SPIE Students Facebook page and look for the #FacesofPhotonics tag.

09 December 2016

#FacesofPhotonics: Inspired

Among the #FacesofPhotonics: Student Leadership
Workshop participants at SPIE Optics + Photonics
Guest blogger: Emily Power is a Winter Quarter graduate in communications from Western Washington University, and most recently social media intern for SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. She is blogging on responses to the SPIE #FacesofPhotonics campaign, to share the stories of SPIE students around the globe.

It is a commonly known fact: students are the future. Around the world, students with ideas, opinions, and innovative minds are preparing for their opportunities to conceptualize and create the next advances for the ever-changing world in which we live.

In the field of optics and photonics, students are making a difference even now, sharing their work and building their networks through conferences such as SPIE Photonics West, coming up next month in San Francisco.

The SPIE campaign #FacesofPhotonics was developed as a showcase across social media to connect students from SPIE Student Chapters around the world, highlighting similarities, celebrating differences, and fostering a space for conversation and community to thrive. Students were invited to share their perspectives and successes via SPIE’s social media channels.

The results were amazing, and we’ll be sharing some excerpts on these pages over the next few weeks.

This week, we feature students who described how they are inspired by their field.


Michael J. Williams
Michael J. Williams is a PhD student at Delaware State University, studying optics, and earned his master’s degree in material science from Fisk University and bachelor of science at Morehouse College.

In #FacesofPhotonics, he tells of a moment during SPIE Optics + Photonics 2016 when he was inspired by SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs.

“At a town hall meeting held during the conference, there was a question asked by a professor of how optics and photonics awareness can be spread to third-world countries for their benefit,” Michael wrote. “Dr. Arthurs responded by saying that before we even think about going to other countries, we need to reach the inner-city black and Latino communities in our cities first.

“That encouraged me so much because quite honestly, I was the only born-and-raised black American at the event, and I come from the inner-city where people have written those kids off as being too unintelligent or saying they do not have the propensity to learn complex science.

Laura Tobin
“I thanked Dr. Arthurs personally for redirecting the need for optics awareness to poor and low-income communities who may have the desire and intrinsic skill to create colorful innovation for a different point of view. They just need consistent encouragement and the opportunity.”

Laura Tobin is a postgraduate student at University College Dublin. She pursues her interests in optics and renewable energy by studying electrical and electronic engineering.

Laura said she found inspiration at SPIE Optics + Photonics 2010, when “I attended my first outreach workshop, ‘Optics Magic’ by Judy Donnelly and Nancy Magnani. This workshop inspired and motivated me to start doing #scicomm and outreach. I honestly don’t think I would have achieved or gone for half the things that I have done if I hadn’t attended that conference.”

Matt Posner
Born and raised in France, Matt Posner is a postgraduate student studying optoelectronics at the University of Southampton. He is currently president of his university’s SPIE Student Chapter. Matt wrote about the inspiration he found at Optics + Photonics in 2016, centered on connections he made there: “I had really rich and inspiring discussions with the people that came to see our experiments, and made lots of contacts with people from all around the world whom passionate about photonics.”

For full stories and more inspiration, follow @SPIEphotonics on Instagram, and look for the #FacesofPhotonics tag.

19 September 2016

Peer Review Week celebrates the 'unsung heroes'

The second annual Peer Review Week spans 19-25 September 2016. This global event celebrates the vital role that peer review plays in achieving exceptional scientific quality.

Recognition for Review is the theme for this year’s event, which is dedicated to recognizing contributions made by those participating in peer review activities ranging from conference submissions to publication and grant reviews.

“Reviewers are the unsung heroes of scholarly journals," said Optical Engineering editor-in-chief Michael Eismann in his first editorial of 2016. "Generally operating in anonymity, they ensure that published articles meet the journal’s standards of originality, significance, scientific accuracy, and professional quality.”

In another editorial, "Four attributes of an excellent peer review", Eismann defined how to ensure that peer review results in quality publications.

The Peer Review Week event calendar includes a several webinars on various topics, online Q&A sessions, workshops, and presentations.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, publishes 10 peer-reviewed journals (at right) in the SPIE Digital Library, the largest collection of literature in the field of optics and photonics.

This year, several of the journal editors-in-chief joined Eismann in offering thanks to their top reviewers -- read more at the links below about the dedicated individuals who work to ensure quality publications!

29 August 2016

Big dreams and nanomedicine: optical nanotransformers

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Bernhardt, a physics research assistant in nonlinear optics at Washington State University, is  blogging on presentations at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, California, 28 August through 1 September.

Dream big dreams, create amazing solutions:
Paras Prasad offered inspiration in a talk on
how nanomedicine can save lives
Treating diseases in the human body can be incredibly difficult and certain cancers may even be inoperable.

In the opening all-symposium plenary at SPIE Optics + Photonics 2016, Paras Prasad, Executive Director of the Institute for Lasers, Photonics, and Biophotonics at the University at Buffalo, New York, told how he aims to bring treatment directly to the source of the disease, using light.

Inspired early on by James Cameron's move Fantastic Voyage (1966), Dr. Prasad imagined sending something tiny into the human blood stream to specifically target disease. He turned science fiction into reality via nanomedicine.

Nanomedicine uses incredibly small devices, such as multilayered nanotransducers, to treat human diseases from inside the body. The first layer absorbs a particular wavelength of light. The next layer takes this absorbed energy and converts it to a higher or lower wavelength, which is then re-radiated.

The overarching idea is to take low-energy light, such as infrared, send it to a particular location in the body, then change the light to a different, more useful energy. IR light easily passes through the human body with very little damage. Nanotransducers absorb this light, turning it into useful, high-energy visible light, which is easily and readily absorbed by nearby cells. The cells are then destroyed, for an effective and potentially less dangerous way of treating cancer.

Dr. Prasad described another dream becoming reality, via the work of Nobel Laureate Maria Goeppert-Mayer, who developed the theory of two-photon absorption.

At the time, it was assumed experimental verification would never be possible. However, with development of the laser, two-photon absorption occurs every time one uses a green laser pointer.

Moreover, two-photon absorption can be used for dental bonding, killing bacteria, two-photon microscopy, and more. Indeed, Dr. Prasad showed materials applicable to night vision, security, and friend-foe identification. These materials appear to be different colors based on the light they absorb.

He challenged the audience to turn their own imaginings into reality as well. Perhaps the next project in optogenetics (using light to effect genes) will cure or help people with neurological disorders, or even enhance capabilities ... maybe one day neurophotonics will help Superman jump from the pages of a comic book into real-life super-human capabilities.

Note: On Wednesday 31 August, Dr. Prasad will receive the SPIE Gold Medal, the highest award of the Society, in recognition of his work.

25 August 2016

Eight to anticipate: photonics technologies coming our way

Optics and photonics technologies are at work improving our lives in many ways.

These technologies are what provide sustainable lighting and energy-generation systems. Nanoparticles are used to rapidly diagnose disease or derive 3D images of living, functioning cells. Optical resonators detect counterfeit or pirated goods. Airborne telescopes probe deep into the Universe while optical fibers send messages instantly across the globe.

Engineers and scientists from around the world meet every August at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego to advance research in several broad areas of optics and photonics. A few of the 3,000+ researchers who will present reports next week have provided previews via articles they have authored recently for the SPIE Newsroom.

Multicolor rapid diagnostics for infectious disease,” Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli, Chunwan Yen, Helena de Puig, José Goméz-Marquéz, Irene Bosch and Lee Gehrke [ref. 9923-28, Tuesday 30 August, 9 a.m.]
Recent epidemic outbreaks have highlighted the need for a rapid point-of-care assay that can provide a diagnosis to enable treatment, proper quarantining, and disease surveillance. One promising diagnostic is the lateral flow test, i.e., the same type of assay used in pregnancy tests: a paper strip to which a biological fluid is added. These are attractive for diagnostics because they are inexpensive, easy to use, and do not require special reagents or experts to run them.

Custom complex 3D microtubule networks for experimentation and engineering,” Michael Vershinin, Jared Bergman and Florence Doval [ref. 9930-4, Sunday 28 August, 10 a.m.]
Cargo logistics — driven by cytoskeletal motors and proceeding along actin and microtubule filaments — are an essential subsystem of the overall machinery of eukaryotic cells. It is no stretch to say that virtually every process in a living cell depends, directly or indirectly, on proper routing of cargoes in a timely fashion. Much progress has been made in the last few decades in understanding the structure and properties of individual filaments and motors, but clean experimental modeling of how these components add up to a functional cytoskeleton still poses many challenges.

Anisotropic Fabry-Perot resonators for anticounterfeiting applications,” In-Ho Lee, Eui-Sang Yu, Se-Um Kim and Sin-Doo Lee [ref. 9940-2, Sunday 28 August, 8:55 a.m.].
The prevalence of counterfeited and pirated goods in modern society has increased the demand for anticounterfeiting technologies. Global trade of such items in 2015 was estimated to be worth $960 billion, and a danger to 2.5 million jobs. Much effort has been made in the development of smart security labels designed to hide information in normal conditions and reveal it in others.

Organic LEDs with low power consumption and long lifetimes,” Satoshi Seo [ref. 9941-18, Sunday 28 August, 4:40 p.m.]
An LED with an emissive organic thin film sandwiched between the anode and cathode is known as an organic-LED (OLED). The emission mechanism of an OLED is superficially similar to that of a standard LED, i.e., holes and electrons are injected from the anode and cathode, respectively, and these carriers recombine to form excited states (excitons) that lead to light emission. In recent years, smartphones and TVs with OLED displays have rapidly become widespread because OLEDs provide high contrast, a wide color gamut, light weight, thinness, and flexibility for the displays. OLEDs also have great potential for the creation of new lighting applications. The high power consumption and short lifetime of OLEDs, however, remain key issues.

Using femtosecond lasers to grow nonlinear optical crystals in glass,” Carl Liebig, Jonathan Goldstein, Sean McDaniel, Eric Glaze, Doug Krein and Gary Cook [ref. 9958-5, Sunday 28 August, 10:30 a.m.]
Non-centrosymmetric crystals whose optical response does not vary linearly with the strength of an electric field — known as nonlinear optical (NLO) crystals — are the fundamental building blocks for most electro-optic applications. The production of novel NLO crystals is very difficult because it entails bulk techniques that require long growth times and expensive equipment, and that often result in low-quality crystals. For more than three decades, lasers have been used to make modifications to glass refractive indices in the fabrication of high-efficiency waveguides. In recent work, the use of femtosecond laser sources facilitates the fabrication of multidimensional structures composed of many types of NLO crystals.

Synchrotron ‘pink beam’ tomography for the study of dynamic processes,” Mark Rivers [ref. 9967-33, Tuesday 30 August, 3:00 p.m.]
Computerized axial tomography scanning has revolutionized medical imaging, and through microtomography, its spatial resolution can be reduced from the millimeter scale to the micrometer scale. Microtomography has developed rapidly, driven by developments in x-ray sources, computers, and particularly in detectors. There are now microtomography systems available for laboratory use and microtomography has been applied to fields including biology, geology, soil science, and the study of meteorites. Monochromatic beams are generally unsuitable for dynamic studies. So-called pink beam microtomography is an alternative.

Making unique IR observations with an airborne 2.5m telescope,” Eric Becklin, Maureen Savage, Erick Young and Dana Backman [ref. 9973-17, Tuesday 30 August, 8:30 a.m.]
Large parts of the IR spectrum are inaccessible in observations made from ground-based telescopes because of absorption by water vapor in the atmosphere.For this reason, the Stratospheric Observatory for IR Astronomy (SOFIA) — a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) — was designed and has been operational since 2010. SOFIA has become a key facility for several astronomy investigations, e.g., for studying regions of star formation, observing objects obscured by interstellar dust, and making time-critical measurements of transient events.

Robust photon-pair source survives rocket explosion,” Zhongkan Tang, Rakhitha Chandrasekara, Yue Chuan Tan, Cliff Cheng, Kadir Durak and Alexander Ling [ref. 9980-8, Monday 29 August, 8:05 a.m.]
Quantum key distribution (QKD) is of much interest for quantum communications because of its high level of privacy (underpinned by quantum mechanics). In particular, entanglement-based QKD is a powerful technique in which quantum correlations between photons are leveraged. In this process, the entangled photons can be distributed with the use of optical fibers or ground-level free-space links. Current QKD networks, however, suffer from a distance limit because of fiber losses and the lack of quantum repeaters.

16 August 2016

Keeping nighttime lighting under control

Yosemite National Park offers stunning views of mountain vistas during the day and star-filled skies at night. This view often includes the Milky Way -- invisible to almost one third of Earth’s population due to light pollution.

Artificial lighting is restricted in Yosemite, but some areas in the park require lighting, such as parking lots and pathways between buildings. Light pollution can not only have a negative effect on visitors’ experiences, but can also change the natural rhythms of the park’s wildlife.

University of California, Merced (UC Merced) graduate student Melissa Ricketts has found a solution – by turning one of her professor’s inventions upside down. In an article from UC Merced’s University News, Ricketts describes what she calls “prescribed irradiance distribution.”

Ricketts is a member of UC Solar, a multicampus research institute headquartered at UC Merced headed by Roland Winston, the inventor of nonimaging optics. His compound parabolic concentrator (CPC) is a key piece of solar-collecting equipment in the emerging solar energy industry. Ricketts has developed a way to make Winston’s CPC emit light rather than gather it.

“It’s the reverse of the solar collector,” Ricketts said. “We can make a perfect square of LED light, or a circle, or whatever shape works best to illuminate only what needs to be illuminated.


Ricketts has been working with Steve Shackelton, a UC Merced staff member and former Yosemite chief ranger, on what they call “The Sand Pile Project.” Although most of their work is done in the lab, designs are occasionally tested in Yosemite on a large pile of sand that snowplow operators spread on the park roads when needed. The park needs to keep the sand pile well-lit so it can be accessed at any time, but lighting should have minimum effects on the surrounding areas.

UC Merced graduate student Melissa Ricketts sets up her LED
 lighting solution in the Sand Pile at Yosemite National Park
Credit: Courtesy of UC Merced

Yosemite is cautious about introducing new technology into the park, but they have been supportive of Ricketts’ research toward managing light by letting her use the area as a test where her work could eventually have global implications for wildlife and park visitors.

“We’re hoping to show the park we can eliminate the unnecessary light,” Ricketts said. She’s currently seeking funding to make the project viable for Yosemite and other parks