From The Editor | December 31, 2013

Year In Review: The Top 5 Photonics Stories (And More) From 2013

By Jim Pomager,
Follow me on Twitter @jpomager


Having spent the past 15 years as an editor of online and print publications, I’ve learned that there are three types of content that most readers particularly enjoy (among others). One is the year-in-review article, wherein the writer reflects on the important happenings or trends of the previous 12 months. Another is the list post, which promises the reader a specific quantity of easily digestible steps, tips, secrets, mistakes (to avoid), winners, losers, or other items of interest and/or importance.  Finally, there’s “what your peers are reading” (for lack of a better term), which you can find in the ubiquitous Most Popular, What’s Hot, Most Shared, and similar sections across the web.

For this, my final column of the calendar year, I decided to combine all three.

What follows is, if you will, a Most-Popular-Year-In-Review List. Ok, so technically it's four lists, though each presents the top five most popular pieces of content — editorials, news, tutorials, and new products — from Photonics Online in 2013. My hope is that these lists will provide you with a quick, informative, and enjoyable look back at the year that was in optics and photonics technology, as we prepare to enter 2014.

Let’s start with my most popular editorials:

  1. Disappearing Skyscraper: The Latest In Invisibility Cloaking — A perennially hot topic, invisibility cloaking made big news in September when plans to build an “invisible” skyscraper in South Korea were revealed. This article explains the optical technology behind the tower’s disappearing act, and how it is representative of a growing trend in cloaking technology.

  2. Laser Weapon Systems: Ready For Prime Time? — In April, the U.S. Navy announced that it would deploy a solid-state laser aboard one of its warships in 2014. In this article, I provide status updates on the world’s leading laser weapon development programs, and explore the reasons why the technology just might — or might not — succeed.
  3. Photonic Railway: Will Laser Propulsion Enable Interstellar Travel? — A NASA-backed physicist with 25 years' experience at reputable institutions (SRI, Brookhaven, AFRL) made a far-fetched prediction: that lasers will enable manned interstellar spaceflight within a human generation. Learn about his technological roadmap for transporting us to another solar system (and back).

  4. Has Giant Space Spectrometer Found Evidence Of Dark Matter? — Nearly two years after the $1.5 billion, 9-ton Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) was affixed to the outside of the International Space Station, we finally got an update on its search for antimatter and evidence of elusive dark matter. We took a look at the sensor technology behind AMS — and what they found.

  5. Optical Transistors: The Next Step In Quantum Computing? — Two different research teams (coincidentally) published results in July related to the development of optical transistors, which use photons rather than electricity electrons to carry information. This article explores the two approaches, and what they might mean for quantum computing.

Here are the top news headlines:

  1. Cause Of LED Efficiency Droop Finally Revealed — Researchers conclusively determined that Auger recombination is the mechanism that causes LEDs to be less efficient at high drive currents.

  2. Star Trek's 'Tractor' Beam Created In Miniature — By generating an optical field that efficiently reverses the radiation pressure of light, scientists created a light beam that pulls objects toward it.

  3. Thin, Active Invisibility Cloak Demonstrated For First Time — Invisibility makes its second appearance in our year-in-review, thanks to the development of a thin, scalable, adaptive invisibility cloak.

  4. Laser Diodes Vs. LEDs — Researchers from Sandia National Labs and Corning got together to compare LEDs and laser diodes and to discuss their economics for solid-state lighting — here’s what they found.

  5. 'Bulk' Silicon Emits Visible Light For The First Time — University of Pennsylvania findings could open the possibility of using the silicon in devices that have both electronic and photonic components,

The most popular white papers, tutorials, and application notes of the year were as follows:

  1. High-Speed Infrared Imaging And The Ballistics Of 'Punkin Chunkin' — Find out what happens when a pair of infrared experts are added to the crew of the American Chunker team, in an effort to improve the performance of its 120-foot pneumatic air cannon for the 2012 World Punkin Chunkin Championship.

  2. Understanding Beam Profiling Dynamic Range — It all started when a slow-witted engineer was teased one too many times. Tired of being the butt of all his colleagues' jokes, he plotted revenge: "I will create such a convoluted unit for dynamic range that none of them will be able to understand it. We'll see who's laughing then. Mwahaha!"

  3. An Introduction To Digital Microscopy Imaging — As fun as taking pictures may be, it is the professional analysis of samples that really counts. This article discusses key concepts of digital microscopy imaging systems and how these concepts contribute to a professional presentation of your work.

  4. Image Contrast Enhancement For Thermal Imaging — While automatic gain control (AGC) has become the standard enhancement technique in thermal imaging systems, it is not an optimal solution in all cases. This white paper introduces image contrast enhancement (ICE), which promises to fill the inherent gaps in AGC.

  5. Flexible Fluorescence Technical Tip — By choosing the best measurement options, you can configure a single modular spectroscopy system to study a wide range of samples in both the lab and the field. This application note introduces the basics of designing modular systems for fluorescence.

Last, but not least, are our top five new products:

  1. Micro-PMT Photodetector — Hamamatsu’s new photodetector assembly features the characteristics of a conventional photomultiplier tube (PMT) in an ultracompact (13 × 10 × 2 mm) package.

  2. World’s First 1500-fps Infrared Camera — In addition to its record-setting speed, the FAST-IR 1500 infrared camera from Telops boasts 320 x 526 pixel resolution and 3.0 to 5.0 μm spectral range.

  3. Transparent Conductive Coatings With EMI Shielding — Deposition Sciences, Inc. (DSI) has developed a unique method to coat transparent conductive coatings as a cap layer over a dielectric stack.

  4. Ball Lens Polisher — The Trig Bare Fiber Polisher from Krell Technologies features variable angle polishing capability and specialized adapters for shaped fiber tips such as ball lenses, endcaps, and tapers.

  5. Handheld Raman Spectrometer — Ocean Optics’ IDRaman Mini is a true handheld, compact (3.6 x 2.80 x 1.5 in.), and portable Raman spectrometer for field and mobile applications.

For more of the year’s most popular content from Photonics Online, check out our Top 10 Of 2013 newsletter. Have a happy New Year!