The fallout from the telecoms crash a decade ago continued to reverberate throughout the photonics industry for several years; companies disappeared, others were acquired, and only those that had the foresight to diversify were able to maintain healthy balance sheets. Arguably, much of the growth of the industrial laser market in the past decade may be as a direct result of the transfer of expertise from the fibre and telecoms sector.
When we think of light microscopy, we think of slides of tissue samples placed carefully under an instrument, while a diligent researcher in a white coat peers down the eyepiece and makes notes. We usually think of it as a technique for the life sciences. However, these perceptions are becoming ever more distant from the exciting reality of light microscopy today. First, virtual microscopy allows the researcher to be on a different continent to the microscope, and at a different point in time.
Laser light is generally monochromatic with the wavelength dependent on the active material. Nd:YAG lasers, for instance, typically emit at 1,064nm, the wavelength neodymium produces when excited with a flash lamp or alternative pumping light. This is all very well if 1,064nm has the desired effect, and for many applications this is the case. However, there are many instances where shifting from 1,064nm to shorter or longer wavelengths is beneficial and this is where nonlinear optics come into play.
A femtosecond is an extraordinarily short length of time. There are about the same number of femtoseconds in a second (1015) as there are tonnes of water in all the oceans of the world. A 10fs laser pulse in the infrared part of the spectrum will contain only three or four complete wavelength oscillations. Femtosecond lasers were, until relatively recently, confined to research, but applications based on the technology are becoming ever more commercial.
The photonics industry is characterised by a huge proportion of engineer-led companies, driven by the technological foresight and innovation of an individual. Visit many booths at the likes of Photonics West or Laser World of Photonics, and you’ll find the business owners themselves discussing their products directly with customers.