SPIE Community Support stays strong despite pandemic disruptions

Investment in the optics and photonics community remains core to the Society’s mission
21 February 2022
Daneet Steffens
2021 Nick Cobb Memorial Scholarship winner, Yuka Esashi
2021 Nick Cobb Memorial Scholarship winner, Yuka Esashi, next to the phase-sensitive EUV imaging reflectometry beamline. Credit: SPIE.

With virtual events replacing most of its conferences and exhibitions in 2021, SPIE was unable to connect with its constituents in person for the majority of the year. But the Society stayed active and engaged though the rich range of its community-support activities. From young students and doctoral candidates, to postgraduates, early-career professionals, and established academics, the global optics and photonics community benefited directly from SPIE recognition and financial support.

"Inherent in the SPIE mission is giving back to our community," notes SPIE CEO Kent Rochford. "It's an integral aspect of our involvement in the global photonics community. We don't ask for money, we don't have a foundation — we fund through our operations. The proof of our commitment lies in our various scholarship, endowment-matching, and education outreach programs. Through our community-support activities, we help to develop and advance international photonics technologies and professionals, helping them to shine a little brighter." In 2021, the Society continued to grow the endowment-matching program, establishing a $1-million funded SPIE Faculty Fellowship in Optics and Photonics that will support a faculty member at Vanderbilt's School of Engineering, and an $800,000 fund at the University of Birmingham, UK, that will create the SPIE Optics and Photonics Champion Academy. SPIE also announced a partnership with IBM to support quantum optics programs at America's historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with the annual $100,000 IBM-SPIE HBCU Faculty Accelerator Award in Quantum Optics and Photonics. The first recipient of that award is Delaware State University professor Renu Tripathi.

Meanwhile, some of the earlier SPIE endowments are benefiting their initial recipients. The Soileau Family-SPIE Optics and Photonics Undergraduate Scholarship Fund for the University of Central Florida's (UCF) College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL), established in 2020, recently named its latest cohort of recipients: Carlos Granja Angulo; Aiden Nipper; Maya Sosa; Adriana Guevara; and Isabella Pardo. And ICFO, the Barcelona-based Institute of Photonic Sciences, welcomed the 2021 SPIE@ICFO Chair María Yzuel Fellows, part of the $1-million endowed SPIE@ICFO Chair for Diversity in Photonic Sciences established in 2020: Hanna Salamon from Poland, in the research group Quantum Photonics with Solids and Atoms, with her focus on efficient memory compatible quantum light source; Carolina Fajardo from Columbia, part of Medical Optics with her focus on pulsatility assessment of diffuse correlation spectroscopy/time resolved spectroscopy measurements in human subjects; and Maria Paula Ayala from Ecuador, in the Thermal Photonics group, with her focus on tunable thermal emission of VO2.

2021 SPIE President David Andrews presents the University of Birmingham’s Kai Bongs an endowment check

2021 SPIE President David Andrews presents the University of Birmingham's Kai Bongs an endowment check at SPIE Photonex 2021. Credit: SPIE.

In addition, 78 SPIE Optics and Photonics Education Scholarships were disbursed last year for a total of $298,000 in support. One recipient was Agata Azzolin a PhD student at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron Research Center (DESY, Germany) whose current research focuses on attosecond spectroscopy on solids and 2D materials. "This scholarship supports me in a life-changing decision. It is not straightforward, leaving your native country to pursue your doctorate and realize your dream — it can be scary. Nonetheless, I felt encouraged by this award: it was a sort of confirmation that I was following the right path."

The SPIE Endowment Matching Program and Education Scholarships represent just two SPIE community-support programs. In addition, named scholarships and fellowships provide wide-ranging opportunities in academics, industry, and government, honoring and benefitting a wealth of aspiring optics and photonics scientists and engineers. Yuka Esashi, for example, is pursuing her work developing novel semiconductor metrology techniques thanks to the 2021 Nick Cobb Memorial Scholarship which recognizes an exemplary graduate student working in the field of lithography for semiconductor manufacturing. "The award strongly motivates me to continue my work on refining and improving our technique of EUV imaging reflectometry," she told SPIE. "And I am looking forward to presenting it at future SPIE conferences."

From the SPIE D.J. Lovell Scholarship, the Society's largest and most prestigious scholarship, awarded in 2021 to the University of Cambridge's Simone Eizagirre Barker, and the Michael Kidger Memorial Scholarship in Optical Design — awarded in 2021 to Geoffroi Côté at Université Laval - to the Laser Technology, Engineering and Applications Scholarship and the BACUS Scholarship, SPIE offers a rich range of opportunities for financial support and early-career recognition. "Thanks to the generous support of SPIE, I have been able to continue to push myself toward achieving my academic and professional goals," noted Montana State University's Riley Logan, winner of the 2021 John Kiel Scholarship. "SPIE has been instrumental in both my intellectual growth and progress toward a fulfilling career in optics and photonics."

SPIE Past-President Jim Oschmann and SPIE scholarship winners.

2019 SPIE President Jim Oschmann and SPIE scholarship winners. Credit: SPIE

Now SPIE has kicked off the new year in fine form, with announcements of 2022 Nick Cobb Memorial Scholarship winner Yonghwi Kwon and Ivan Kosik, recipient of the $75,000 SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Postdoctoral Fellowship. And this week the Society announced the latest SPIE Matching Endowment Program partnership, a $1-million fund for the SPIE Graduate Fellowship in Optical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Rochester. With this tenth endowment, SPIE marks nearly $4 million in matching gifts, resulting in more than $10 million in dedicated funds, a remarkable impact from the endowment program alone.

Altogether, the Society provides unmatched support for young scientists and engineers pursuing career goals in optics and photonics. Why do this? Because SPIE is a community-focused Society, operating globally. And integral to the SPIE mission to partner with researchers, educators, and industry to advance light-based research and technologies for the betterment of the human condition, is a commitment to support, nurture, and develop future generations of optical scientists, policymakers, and engineers, ensuring a sustained and healthy optics and photonics community.

And, ideally, that support galvanizes them to give back to the community themselves. As 2021 SPIE Optics and Photonics Education Scholarship recipient Emily Elhacham notes, "receiving such a significant recognition from SPIE has given me more confidence in pursuing my career path and is supporting my efforts in introducing more girls to these fields." It's that approach and commitment to the community, that's known as coming full circle.

Daneet Steffens is PR Manager for SPIE. This article originally appeared in the 2022 SPIE Photonics West Show Daily.

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