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The international year of celebration

Light technology has drastically changed our daily lives and the ways we interact with the world. Major examples include closer global connectivity brought about by the Internet, clean energy from solar panels, electricity saving thanks to LED lighting and minimally invasive fast-recovery surgical techniques using endoscopes. The unique enabling potential of light technology may also be crucial for solving many 21st-century challenges.

     On Dec. 20, 2013, the U.N. General Assembly proclaimed 2015 the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies. The decision recognizes the importance of raising global awareness about the impact of such technologies on sustainable development and their potential to help areas such as energy, education, agriculture and health.

     The International Year of Light is a tremendous opportunity to promote the possible problem-solving applications of advances in the field to policymakers, business communities and the general public around the world. 2015 will see activities organized to celebrate light-based scientific advances at the national, regional and international level.

A year of conferences

Preceding the celebratory year for light, the 2014 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded "for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources." The joint winners of the award were Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura. LEDs consume 10 times less electricity than ordinary bulbs. Lighting represents 20% to 30% of electricity consumption, which amounts to 40% of total energy consumption in Japan and 20% across the world. Given these figures, it is easy to see how significant energy savings could be if regular lighting is replaced with LEDs.   

     Hiroshi Amano will present the special lecture at the International Year of Light celebration at the Optics & Photonics International Congress, to be held April 22-24 in Yokohama. OPIC started in 2012 and has been held annually with the Optics & Photonics International Exhibition, an international forum to showcase the latest science and technology from around the world.

     Reinhart Poprawe, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology in Germany, will give a presentation on digital photonic production, which makes possible virtually any products from digital data using lasers. The rapid advancement of this technology is closely attached to the "Industry 4.0" concept, a name that implies it is the fourth industrial revolution. This notion is based on the scope that manufacturing machinery, factories and services will be connected through the Internet, leading to new values and business models, and thus contributing to sustainable development around the world.

Photon science

Since innovative technology also has its origins in basic science, it is important to continue supporting basic research that often takes years to gain results. It is this idea that has seen photon science supported as the 10-year Photon Frontier Network. Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology funds the project, which started in 2008. The program has produced unique results due to excellent scientists from different disciplines collaborating with one another.

     One example, the Photonic Crystal Surface Emitting Laser (PCSEL) Diode, was developed by Susumu Noda at Kyoto University. A laser beam of over 1 watt with near-diffraction-limited divergence was generated with a very small PCSEL device. Development of a 100-watt-class PCSEL is in progress under the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)'s ACCEL program. It is expected that new applications for material processing, medicine, metrology and displays will be possible with high-power and multifunctional PCSELs.

     An ultraprecision clock, called the Optical Lattice Clock, is also being developed as part of this program by Hidetoshi Katori at the University of Tokyo and Riken, a research institute affiliated with the Japanese government. The clock's error margin is seen at 0.5 of a second every 14 billion years, the age of the universe. In terms of frequency, the clock will be accurate up to the 18th digit. This clock will move faster when gravity decreases, due to the relativistic effect. Very small frequency differences due to changes in gravity caused by a difference of 30cm in altitude is now measurable by comparing the frequencies of two optical lattice clocks. In the future, this clock could detect very small changes in gravity resulting from any movement of the Earth's crust.

Preeminent Photonics City

Hamamatsu, a city in Shizuoka Prefecture and 100km east of Nagoya, is the birthplace of television. TV was first developed by Kenjiro Takayanagi in Japan in 1926. His pioneering work and spirit led to the founding of Hamamatsu Photonics in 1948, the Research Institute of Electronics at Shizuoka University in 1965, the Medical Photonics Research Center at the Hamamatsu University School of Medicine in 1991 and the Graduate School for the Creation of New Photonics Industries, or GPI, in 2005.     

Researchers at GPI experiment with laser-processing technology.

     Hamamatsu Photonics, well known for high-performance optical detectors and instruments for science, industry and medicine, received the 2014 IEEE Milestone Award for developing over 1,000 20-inch diameter photomultiplier tubes from 1979 to 1987. This development resulted in the discovery of a neutrino burst from Supernova SN1987A in 1987 by Masatoshi Koshiba, who received a Nobel Prize in 2002.

     Based on this spirit of venture and cooperation, Hamamatsu Photonics, Shizuoka University, the Hamamatsu University School of Medicine and GPI proclaimed Hamamatsu as the "Preeminent Photonics City" in June 2013. The proclamation was intended to make Hamamatsu the world center of photonics, a place where innovative researchers and companies from Japan and abroad can gather and advance their fields. The Innovative Photonics Evolution Research Center will be opened at Shizuoka University in February as an R&D center of the JST's Center of Innovation Program. These four organizations will collaborate to explore which optical technologies will become important 10 years from now.

     On the education front, GPI runs a unique education program fostering entrepreneurship. In the program's doctorate course, students concentrate on realizing a business plan they presented during the application process. Students are encouraged to start their own venture companies; financial support is offered if needed. Twenty-seven venture companies have been started by GPI students over the past 10 years, with some now growing steadily toward the next stage of success. Students sent to the program by companies who do not start their own companies develop their business models through research on technologies and management with an emphasis on customer interaction. GPI's entrepreneurial program has become important in recent years due to the need for business creativity and insight to cope with the rapidly changing world of technology.

Collaboration in Asia

Photonics technology is used in almost all technological fields and the photonics industry is growing faster than the growth rate for worldwide gross domestic product. According to the Photonics Industry Report 2013, released by Photonics21, the global photonics market was approximately 350 billion euros ($429 billion) in 2011. The projected market in 2020 is over 615 billion euros. In 2011, Asian nations supplied 70% of the market. These Asian makers mainly produce large-volume products -- displays, solar power systems, information technology, communication technology and light sources. Asian countries already rely on one another to produce and sell photonics and other products. However, there is a growing necessity for strategic plans based on collaborations among Asian countries to develop technology for more advanced products.

     While Asia's scientific communities already collaborate, there is a continuing need to forge more cooperative bonds. One example is the Asian Intense Laser Network, which began in 2004. It organizes the Asian Symposium on Intense Laser Science, which has been held eight times in Asia -- in India, Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam, China, Taiwan and twice in Japan. Asia's contribution to the field has seen high-power short-pulse lasers developed in Japan, South Korea, China and India in recent years. If a proper scheme is created to make these lasers available to Asian scientists who already enjoy close ties, then rapid advances will contribute to more speedy technological developments across Asia.

Yoshiaki Kato is president of the Graduate School for the Creation of New Photonics Industries.

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