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SPIE President Visits UConn Chapter

By Christopher Falkner, UConn Chapter Vice-President

Engineers are dedicated. Perhaps so much so that we often find ourselves easily frustrated with the prospect of making little (or even no) progress despite many restless hours of work, inching along towards a seemingly unreachable goal. It is refreshing, then, to get a definitive reminder now and again of why we, as students and professionals, challenge ourselves to press on further into the indefatigable world of the unknown. The answer, of course, whether or not we acknowledge it on a daily basis, is to enhance the modern style of life to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live to their fullest potential. Such was the advice of professor at Strathclyde University and 2007-2008 president of the Society for Photonic Instrumentation and Engineering (SPIE), Dr. Brian Culshaw, during his greatly anticipated visit to the University of Connecticut in August.

Since its initiation in 2006, UConn SPIE has grown into the fourth largest student chapter in the United States and has, from the very beginning, established itself as a formidable presence in the international world of optic and photonic instrumentation and research. With the help of chapter president Anastasios Maurudis and chapter advisor Dr. Quing Zhu, University of Connecticut SPIE members have had the astounding privilege of attending university hosted seminars from world class engineers and researchers including Dr. Ralph James, Associate Laboratory Director for the Energy, Environment and National Security at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Dr. Robert Breault, an expert on optics clusters, Ariel Rubenstein, a professor at Tel Aviv University, and Dr. Anothony DeMaria, a professor at the University of Connecticut and founder of DeMaria ElectroOptics Systems, Inc., in 1994. UConn professor and former SPIE president Anthony Demaria excitedly joined the student chapter in welcoming president Culshaw with open arms.

After enjoying a university catered barbeque lunch under immaculately blue skies, President Culshaw was escorted to a sampling of the many research laboratories

Chapter President Anastasios Maurudis welcomes chapter members to the barbeque
located on the University of Connecticut’s main Storrs, CT campus. Some of the visited laboratories included Prof. Quing Zhu’s ultrasound and photoacoustic imaging laboratory, Prof. E. Donkor’s high speed network and device laboratory, Prof and SPIE member B. Javidi’s optical image sensing laboratory and Prof F.C. Jain’s micro/optoelectronics research laboratory. Offering his gratitude to every student and professor on behalf of SPIE, Culshaw humbly conversed with faculty and staff about current and passed events hosted by the flourishing Society for Photonic Instrumentation and Engineering. The big news of the day, however, was the possible cancellation of the anticipated Optics East 2008 conference.

International SPIE conferences such as Optics and Photonics in San Diego, Optics East in Boston, Photonics Asia in China, and many more are essential in unifying regions of the engineering world. In uniting individual optical groups, SPIE conferences not only enhance the current interest in research, but, more importantly, promote interest in the future of optical science by hosting student leadership workshops that bring together youthful minds dedicated to the progress of optics. Furthermore, the Boston area has an incredibly high concentration of collegiate universities with optical engineering laboratories including MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories, Harvard, the University of Connecticut and many more all producing an unprecedented interest in the promotion of optics. It is disappointing and ironic, then, to hear of the ultimate fate of the Optics East Conference in Boston, MA.

Despite the disappointing news, however, Professor Culshaw offered signs of hope by discussing optimistic alternatives with UConn professor and associate dean for research and graduate education, A.F.M Anwar. One suggestion was to combine the Optics East conference with an already established conference such as the national defense and optical technology conference held annually in Florida.

Before heading back to the airport for his long trip home to the U.K, Professor Culshaw was escorted through the biomedical engineering facilities and given a fully comprehensive overview of the flourishing program by director and professor, Dr. John Enderle. Passing through the biomechanics laboratory, bioinstrumentations laboratory and finally through the senior design laboratory, Culshaw observed students in the process of designing revolutionary medical and assistive devices. As he went from one lab station to the next, Professor Culshaw’s enigmatic curiosity and excitement seemed to grow exponentially. The idea of biomedical engineering and the state of the art facilities that the University of Connecticut has to offer its students, he mentioned, “is an interesting concept with, as far as I know,no direct equivalents in the UK.” After he thanked and congratulated each student and faculty member within the department, Professor Brian Culshaw finally made his way home.

2007 SPIE President, Prof. Brian Culshaw, visits with students at the UConn Chapter barbeque.
While the very presence of President Culshaw acted as an inspiration to everyone he introduced himself to, it was his serenely wise mind-set and optimistic air that seemed to warm Storrs, Connecticut during his visit. His unrelenting fascination with our research proved to be a lasting motivation that has reminded us of why we are engineers. With an organization as vastly expansive and rapidly growing as SPIE, it is comforting to hear that the group and its leading faculty have not lost sight of the humanistic and philanthropic impact of our work. While there is no doubt that one can, from time to time, lose sight of the ultimate impact of their work, focusing only on the technical (and often obscure) details of the optical world, it is, as I feel President Culshaw would agree, imperative that everyone one of us has an understanding of WHY we do what we do, FOR WHOM we spend endless hours in the labs, and WHAT it is that we hope to accomplish with our work and, more importantly, with the rest of our lives.