August/September 2006


China – a land of opportunity

With its billion-plus population and rapid development, China is becoming both a major customer and supplier of photonics components, as Warren Clark discovers

In the past few years, China has been making its presence felt in just about every field from sport to politics. Now, industry is preparing itself for the great China surge, and photonics will be one of the areas at the heart of that surge.


Smaller than ever

Nanophotonics is one of the current ‘buzz words’ in the optics industry. The prospect of using light as a tool at the submicron scale opens up a new wave of possible applications, and the idea of creating light from nano or ‘meta’-materials could pave the way for a new wave of miniaturisation, as seen in the semiconductor industry in the last decades of the 20th century. Such advances are already allowing researchers to create so-called lab-on-a-chip systems, where components such as miniature lasers, sensors, and MEMS apparatus can be built onto a semiconductor wafer.


The three dimensions of a great team

It’s a fascinating time in the photonics industry. Fewer than 20 years ago there were a small number of countries involved in our industry, with a total population of certainly fewer than one billion people. Today we face a substantially larger global market – perhaps more than four billion people, with the inclusion of new markets in India, China, Russia and other countries. In addition, technology in our industry has changed profoundly over the same period of time.


Staying on course for a starring role

When you sell fibre optic spectro-meters and you are based in Florida, you have to expect to be compared to the larger company down the road that does the same. But StellarNet’s Will Pierce is not concerned; in fact he welcomes comparison because he believes he makes a better instrument for about the same money. But don’t expect Ocean Optics to agree. (In fact Mike Morris, president of Ocean Optics, has said: ‘We make the best spectrometers in the world at any cost, and we have sold more than 75,000 of them – more than all our competitors combined, I believe.’)


Lasers make their mark

Photonic devices in general, and lasers in particular, are ubiquitous in the printing industry – from the most humble laser printer in a home office, to the printing presses of major daily newspapers, the laser is a truly enabling technology. Many industry experts believe this to be a mature market. However, there are many exciting developments and advances being made in the field.