Although the fields of optics and photonics have developed gradually (Box 1.1), important changes have occurred over the past several years that merit study and related action:

1. The science and engineering of light have enabled dramatic technical advances.

2. Globalization of manufacturing and innovation has accelerated.

in silicon and germanium p-n junctions, and Neumann indicated separately in a letter to a colleague that that one could obtain radiation amplification by stimulated emission in semiconductors. Japan’s Optoelectronics Industry and Technology Development Association was established in 1980, and the U.S. counterpart is the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association.

As used in its present sense, the term “photonics” appeared as “la photonique” in a 1973 article by French physicist Pierre Aigrain. The term began to be seen in print in English around 1981 in press releases, annual reports of Bell Laboratories, and internal publications of Hughes Aircraft Corporation and in the more general press. In 1982, the trade magazine Optical Spectra changed its name to Photonics Spectra, and in 1995 the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE) debuted Photonics West, arguably one of the largest conferences in optics and photonics. Sternberg defines “photonics” as the “engineering applications of light,” involving the use of light to detect, transmit, store, and process information; to capture and display images; and to generate energy. However, in the professional literature, “photonics” is used almost synonymously with the term “optics,” referring equally to both science and applications. The term “photonics” continues to gain popularity today. In 2006 Nature Publishing Group established the journal Nature Photonics, and in 2008 the Lasers and Electro-Optics Society became the IEEE Photonics Society.


Brown, R.G.W., and E.R. Pike. 1995. A history of optical and optoelectronic physics in the twentieth century. In Twentieth Century Physics, Vol. III, L.M. Brown, A. Pais, and B. Pippard, eds. Bristol, U.K., and Philadelphia, Pa.: Institute of Physics Publishing; New York, N.Y.: American Institute of Physics Press.

IEEE Global History Network. 2012. “IEEE Photonics Society History.” Available at Accessed August 1, 2012.

Nature Publishing Group. 2006. “Nature Publishing Group Announces the Launch of Nature Photonics.” Available at Accessed August 1, 2012.

SPIE. 2011. “History of the Society.” Available at Accessed August 3, 2012.

Sternberg, E. 1992. Photonic Technology and Industrial Policy: U.S. Responses to Technological Change. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.

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