AC.1. International Commission for Optics - Reports 1999

Report to the 1999 General Assembly for 1996-99

Officers 1996-1999:

President: T. Asakura Japan
Past President: A. Consortini Italy
Secretary General: P. Chavel France
Treasurer: R.R. Shannon USA
IUPAP Delegate B. Stoicheff Canada

Activities of the International Commission for Optics, 1996-99

The International Commission for Optics was created in 1947 as an Affiliated Commission of IUPAP with the objective to contribute, on an international basis, to the progress and diffusion of knowledge in optics.

One major activity of ICO is to organise meetings : the latest ICO Congress, ICO 17, was held in Taejon, Korea, in August 1996 and attracted 538 scientists from 33 countries. ICO 18 will take place in San Francisco, California, August 2-6, 1999. One other major event during this triennium was the ICO Fiftieth Anniversary celebration, which was held in Delft (Netherlands), in August 1997, during an ICO Topical Meeting on Optics Education and Training organised jointly with SPIE, the International Society for Optical Engineering. The other ICO Topical Meeting was the first major ICO event in China, Optics for the Information Infrastructure, Tianjin, August 1998. In continuity with several previous joint events, ICO collaborated with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy, on the organisation of the ICTP/ICO Winter College on Optics, held in February 1998. Besides, ICO participated at various levels in over twenty other meetings in nearly all continents.

Through its Committee for the Regional Development of Optics and its contacts with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, ICTP, Trieste, Italy, ICO constantly seeks new ways to provide help to optical scientists and engineers in developing countries, in particular through the exchange of information and through the joint organisation of schools. Under a Proceedings Donation programme, some libraries in developing countries can receive copies of the proceedings of Conferences with ICO participation. Schools with ICO participation of a typical duration two or three weeks are organised for the main benefit of optical scientists and engineers in non industrialised countries. The contribution of ICO is mostly in the form of support in establishing the programme and finding the appropriate instructors. ICO and ICTP organised their third Winter College on Optics, which was held in February 1998.

A Newsletter covering ICO activities is published four times a year; it is included in the magazine of the Optical Society of America, "Optics and Photonics News", and in the magazine of the SPIE, "Optical Engineering Reports", and is sent to all ICO members in a quantity sufficient to allow broad distribution within their territory. Additional copies may be obtained from the ICO secretariat in paper or electronic mail form.

ICO has opened a web page, maintained and hosted by SPIE.

ICO has established two international awards :

  • the ICO Prize is awarded annually to one or possibly two persons who have made a noteworthy contribution to optics, published or submitted before reaching the age of 40. The Prize consists of a citation, a sum of US $ 1000, and the Ernst Abbe medal, donated by the Carl Zeiss Foundation. Recipients during the Triennium were Vladimir Buzek from Slovakia, Andrew M. Weiner from the United States, Haldun Ozaktas of Turkey and David Mendlovic of Israel.
  • The Galileo Galilei Award is awarded annually to a person who has made outstanding contributions to the field of optics under comparatively unfavourable circumstances. It consists in the Galileo Galilei Medal, donated by the Societa Italiana de Optica e Fotonica, financial support for the participation the next ICO General Meeting, and measures to favour the future activities of the award winner. Recipients during the Triennium were Daniel Malacara of Mexico, Nataliya D. Kundikova of Russia and Ajoy K. Ghatak of India.

ICO has established a Travelling Lecturer Programme to promote lectures on modern aspects of optics by scientists of international reputation with good lecturing skills. The program is aimed more particularly at developing nations, even though it is not necessarily restricted to them. As a rule it is expected that the lecturer's local expenses will be met by the host institution and that ICO's contribution will be toward travel costs. The programme gained in weight and popularity during this triennium.

ICO has launched a series of books, entitled "Trends in Optics", which grows by one volume every three years. The third volume appeared in August 1996 and the fourth volume is in preparation. These books provide an authoritative overview of research that is underway in the field of optics throughout the world. The articles, which are suitable for the specialist and non-specialist alike, consist of general, readable reviews of many different aspects of optical science and engineering. The royalties typically paid to the editor and the authors are instead paid to ICO to provide additional funds to such activities as the Travelling Lecturer Programme.

In spite of these various continuing activities, the fifty years old ICO has felt the need to prepare a major evolution. The 1996 General Meeting of the ICO has appointed the Bureau to propose a change of the organisation reflecting the evolution in the needs of the optical community. The ICO Bureau is now ready to submit new statutes to the San Francisco General Meeting. The policy behind these changes is summarised here.

Unlike the other IUPAP commissions and affiliated commissions, ICO has members representing identified optics communities, paying fees and voting at the General Meetings, in particular for the election of the ICO Bureau. A member adheres to ICO through its Territorial Committee for Optics. At present, the number of members is 45 : the consequence is that ICO has a particularly wide and neutral international profile compared to the learned societies active in the field. The hundred forty or so meetings with ICO participation organised since 1947 have been promulgated broadly around the globe. ICO has used this strength over the years to develop actions for the development of optics in regions where special support is required. This has occurred, for example, through regular cooperation with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics at Trieste, Italy.

However, many international activities in optics have developed independently of ICO. For example, the Optical Society of America, SPIE - the International Society for Optical Engineering, the IEEE Lasers and Electro-Optics Society, the European Physical Society Quantum Electronics and Optics Division, the European Optical Society, the Asia-Pacific Optical Federation, OWLS - the International Society for Optics within the Life Sciences have developed useful, recognised and successful publications, meetings and exhibits that cover and serve the field much better than ICO alone could do.

The ICO now nourishes the ambition to become the accepted representative of all of optics, topically as well as geographically. A new category of membership, in addition to the existing category of Territorial Committee, would be created for membership Societies with international activity in optics such as those listed above. This move is expected to allow ICO to act as an effective unifying organisation and pursue several important common goals, that are not at present domains of competition among its present and future members. These include education in optics, standards, and actions for the regional development of optics - all of which can be handled effectively in connection with IUPAP. They also include the promotion of optics outside the community at an international level. A recognised representativity will allow the ICO, as an IUPAP affiliated commission, to obtain an improved recognition within ICSU, which is a good way to convey the idea that optics has grown out of physics, where it still has and maintains its roots, to become an identified field of science and engineering.

New developments in Optics, 1996-99

Optics shares with a few other fields of physics the fascinating property that it is both a subject for some of the more basic advances in physics, as is testified for example by the 1997 Nobel Prize being awarded to Steve Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and Bill Philips, and a profession with widespread applications. As a pervasive scientific field, it is of interest to several commissions within IUPAP and other ICSU unions, while the fairly ubiquitous profession of Photonics serves in the most diverse branches of economic and social activity. It is hard to summarize international progress during three years in such a diffuse domain in a few sentences. Fortunately, a major effort was devoted by the United States National Research Council to better defining the discipline of Optics and its perspective. While the report Harnessing Light, Optical Science and Engineering for the 21st Century (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1998) has obviously been written with a mostly American perspective, its technical analyses are universally valid and most of its findings can trigger thoughts and stimulate progress in all countries. ICO therefore took its share in promoting its broad diffusion and it is therefore appropriate to highlight here some of its major points.

Optics research has developed to control atoms by laser light, including coherent atomic states such as Bose Einstein condensates. Single atoms are detected, completely original concepts are being developed for optical quantum cryptography, and the quantum computer of the late 1990ies is a much more ambitious and more far reaching, if not more practical, concept that the optical computer of the 1980ies. Femtosecond lasers are leading to new approaches for the investigation not only of fast effects, but also of high energy phenomena related with intense fields, with possible application to particle acceleration. The fields of laser sources, nonlinear optical effects and optoelectronic devices are progressing at a fast pace due to more efficient interactions between opticists and material scientists specialising in all categories of materials : semi-conductors, dielectric crystals, and organics. Some of the most ambitious projects in astrophysics are the gravitational wave observatories, with the largest and most sensitive interferometers ever built being designed and fabricated. Optics is extending its domain of application to both longer and shorter wavelengths : improved detectors are arising in the far infrared and millimetric region of the electromagnetic spectrum, X ray sources are becoming brighter and more easily accessible and X-UV optical components are progressing in luminosity and resolution.

Closer to economy, optics is impacting information technology and telecommunications through developments in optical storage and with an essential role in the fantastic development of high bandwidth, multiwavelengths long distance network based on fibre amplifiers, dispersion management techniques balancing linear and nonlinear effect during signal propagation, and improved optoelectronic circuitry - if not yet optoelectronic routing. Optics is finding new places is minimally invasive therapy and diagnostic techniques. Light has found new applications in biology for the detection of single molecules, the tagging of proteins, the manipulation of living molecules using laser tweezers. Optical sensors and imaging systems are following the progress of semiconductor detector technology and optical design and fabrication techniques. Night vision, displays, navigation, lighting applications have both civilian and military applications. Machine vision, laser materials processing, optical prototyping are affecting manufacturing techniques.

It has been predicted that the 21st century will be the century of light. To the least, there is every sign that we shall see optics trigger progress in science, technology and economy well into the coming century.

Pierre Chavel,Secretary General.