Photonics North 2015 opens at Shaw Centre

In proclaiming 2015 the International Year of Light and light-based technologies, the United Nations has recognized the importance of photonics research, the co-chair of Photonics North 2015 told those gathered for the conference’s first day at the Shaw Centre Tuesday.

“Light plays a vital role in our daily lives and is an imperative cross-cutting discipline of science in this 21st century,” Sylvain Charbonneau told the crowd. “It has revolutionized medicine, opened up international communication via the Internet, and continues to be central to linking cultural, economic and political aspects of this global society.”

Mr. Charbonneau, the vice-president of research at the University of Ottawa, said the impact of photonics over the past 15 years is comparable to that of electronics in the 20th century.

“Photonics and technologies that harness the properties of light have given us the Internet as we know it today,” he said, adding that the development of cellphones was driven by photonics as well.

Photonics research has come a long way since the conference was first held 17 years ago, Mr. Charbonneau said.

“In the past, photonics was really geared toward the telecommunication-type environment,” he said. “Ottawa was a hotbed of photonics communications with JDS Uniphase, Nortel Networks and all of those. What you’ve found over the last decade and a half is that now photonics is very pervasive.”

Mr. Charbonneau said the UN International Year of Light brings “awareness about how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture, health, to mention but a few.”

He said Canada has always been on the cutting edge of photonics, crediting the government for funding research labs and centres of excellence in the field.

“Canada is really a forerunner in the development of photonics technologies,” he said. “You can take almost any applications and Canada has leaders in that field.”

If Photonics North 2015, which runs until Thursday, is any indication, other countries are catching up. More than 500 people from around the world are expected to attend, with a professor from Australia traveling the farthest, Mr. Charbonneau said.

Many topics will be covered, from the theoretical to the “very applied,” he said.