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    Photonics for a Better World
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SPIE Professional April 2009

Economic Recovery: Science Education Is Key

By María J. Yzuel, SPIE President

Scientific and technological innovation is being championed as a major driver for revitalization of the global economy, but a shortage of scientists and engineers, combined with a declining number of young people interested in studying science and engineering, could become a major restraint to economic recovery.

SPIE, as an international society advancing an interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light, has a long history of promoting scientific discovery and commercialization, and our members are in an ideal position to meet the challenges of these troubling economic times.

Biomedical optics students (left to right) Dimitris Gorpas, Kye-Sung Lee, Thomas O’Sullivan, Erik Sorenson, and William Warger received scholarships from SPIE President María Yzuel at SPIE Photonics West in January.

Solutions to the key problems facing the world—including economic problems—are found every day from within our diverse community in optics and photonics. From harnessing renewable energy from the sun, to discovering light-based treatments for diseases, to fostering global commerce and collaboration through fiber optic communication systems, SPIE members are promoting education and advancement of science every day and will be crucial players in the economic recovery.

Some may ask: Will we need an increased number of trained professionals in optics and photonics in the future if private and public companies, government laboratories, and universities see their budgets reduced?

I believe we definitely will need well-trained and motivated scientists and engineers in any economy. Optics is an enabling technology that gives solutions to many other fields of science and technology that advance the quality and comfort of life. Now is not the time to let up on this mission.

Even before the current economic crisis, SPIE leadership has actively worked to promote science and engineering education.

In addition to our scientific conferences, exhibitions, publications, Digital Library, and short courses at conferences and in the workplace, SPIE also expends considerable effort and financial support in educational outreach. In 2008, the Society provided $1.9 million for scholarships, grants, and other activities that promote education and technological innovation around the world, all of which stimulate the economy.

SPIE President María Yzuel (left), Imrana Ashraf Zahid of Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, (center), and Shamaraz Firdous of the National Institute of Lasers & Optronics in Islamabad (right) with students attending the ICTP Winter College

The SPIE Education Committee, chaired by Barbara Darnell, works with SPIE staff to develop educational products such as optics kits, posters, and DVDs that are distributed for free to bring optics closer to students and to society in general.

In fact, a video for high school students exploring careers in optics was so successful that we are working on a new photonics DVD for students as young as 8 and 10. Watch for its availability later this spring.

SPIE also supports the Winter College at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy, and I was proud to be a part of this annual event in February. About 100 students from developing countries spent two weeks there learning about optics in environmental science. The students I met were very motivated to learn cutting-edge science and technologies and to network with each other, the teachers of the College, and other scientists who attended.

I was particularly proud that support from SPIE has allowed the ICTP to start experimental research on optics in collaboration with Italy’s Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare. The Quantum Cascade Lasers project will include optics students from developing countries doing experimental research at the ICTP.

I encourage you to be part of the economic recovery and work to increase opportunities for and the number of students in science and engineering, particularly in optics and photonics. Please send us your ideas c/o governance@spie.org.

María J. Yzuel
2009 SPIE President

Education Outreach

Recent SPIE Presidents Kevin Harding and Brian Culshaw, among others, have worked to increase careers in optics and photonics.

Harding’s President’s Letter in the April 2008 SPIE Professional reviewed SPIE-sponsored activities that support careers in optics and photonics and described efforts to collect ideas from our members and develop activities which can meet local needs.

In October 2007, Culshaw wrote about how scientists and engineers have contributed to the enormous scientific and technological progress across the globe and the need to make that connection for young people and encourage them to choose a career in science and engineering.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4200904.01

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