Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The joys of poster sessions and coffee breaks

Today was a rather interesting day at the conference, for more than one reason. There were some excellent talks (see below). But even more so there was some great interaction with people. Over the poster session last evening and coffee today, I got talking with a few graduate students. A few were about to graduate, one had recently graduated and one was a 6-month newbie. All were giving talks at the conference. So it was natural that there was considerable anxiety and presentation nerves for the newbie. He was worried people would find his work too simplistic and not smart enough. The about to graduate and the recent graduate were looking for jobs and there was considerable anxiety related to the job search. It all brought back the memories (not too distant!) of my first international conference and then later my own job search.
Last evening over the poster session, Dr. Ishwar Aggarwal, Chair for Specialty Optical Fibers, spent some time talking with me. He discussed upcoming technical areas for the future, he gave me advise on life and my career. Most importantly he encouraged me... when  someone eminent, whom you admire gives you a bit of encouragement it can mean a lot (unless you are very odd!).
So it felt a bit strange that today I was trying to reassure my new friends that
a) simple talks were good talks
b) the jobs would come
And it was particularly good to find that a little conversation raised their spirits and  made me feel happy too.  I am happy to report that  newbie's talk was extremely well received, the jobs I am sure will come for the graduates.
And none of this talking would have taken place without coffee breaks and poster sessions!
As for the excellent talks:
I particularly enjoyed the session on nano-photonics for energy conversion and other applications. To me the  highlight was the talk by Prof. David Norris on template stripping of metallic films for PV. There was an interesting talk on bulk heterojunction organic solar cells also that was quite good. The recent trend in solar cells (of all kinds) on patterning the surface and including nano-particles must surely converge to some optimal design, given the volume of work in this area?

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Free coffee, loaded dice and some very special fibers

So the free coffee is for anyone who reads the blog and shows up to my presentation tomorrow! As I had said I am firmly in the graveyard slot (SW4F.6 at 5pm in the RioGrande/Gunnison room). The picture I have put up has a connection to my talk (the content, I swear!)- be there to find out.
Why the dice is loaded is that some of the parallel sessions are post deadline and not regular. PDP papers are obviously a bit special as they report really new and innovative research.  So how can us 'regular presenters' be expected to compete for eye-balls and 'bums on seats' with these hot-shot PDPs?  Thus, I may even consider offering guilt free chocolate brownies to audience! I think a 10 hour flight trussed up in cattle class and to present to an empty room would be simply too much to bear, especially if I hear sounds of wild cheering and applause from the next room!
In my next post I will endeavour to give some context for my work on spiral PCF. Meanwhile you can find some of my work and freely download from
Having ranted I can now turn to the fun task of recapping some of the amazing talks I heard today.
One could have been forgiven for thinking that optical fibers and PCF were a somewhat mature and shall we say staid field. But the last 5ish years have brought back some of the giddiness that came when the first PCF reports were published. Sessions STuxD were simply brilliant. Now with PCF, it is possible to infiltrate holes with metal, or even semiconductors like Si. So in the future we may well have single crystals of Si (with diameters in micron) but length of meters or even kilometers! On the endface of a fiber (all solid SMF type)  it has been shown that nano structures such as lenses, 3D photonic crystals can be grown. Wow!
Tapering and other nanofab techniques can give us micro and nano fibers. Of course, materials such as chalcogenides have opened up the mid IR spectrum as well. The possibilities are endless...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Today's highlights and the lunch conundrum

First day of the conference and we are off to a great start. On one hand the conference has multiple parallel sessions and many great talks, on the other hand there arent as many attendees as I had expected (a la OFC). All good though, because the slightly smaller setting allows more interaction with participants.

I began my day with Phillip Russell's plenary talk on nanoscale glass blowing and then attended two sessions mainly: Theory, Modelling and Numerical Simulations and the session on PBG and PCF fibers. Two things stood out for me:

1. Non-conventional fibers: in several of the talks on fibers (Russell's plenary, SM3E.1, SM3E.2, SM3E.5  for example) new fiber structures/functionalities were explored. More and more, there is an interest in exploring unconventional non-hexagonal airhole microstructure or inclusions. Some designs included twisting the fiber while drawing to get a helical airholes that precess, some involved kagome type structures for band gap guidance, while other involved fibers with negative curvature ( air holes arranged along the circumference ). I find this exciting because some of these ideas resonate with my own ideas and work on non hex fibers- and how it frees our thinking and creativity. More on that soon...

2. In modelling, the new thing now is to look at system level modelling of several components on a chip similar to electronics. This is hugely challenging, because the length scale of devices and certain effects can be very different, but have to be handled together. As can the time scale of certain phenomena such as thermal effects on one hand and an optical phenomena on the other. Then there is the aspect of many wavelengths in WDM applications that need to be handled, while multiple physcial effects play a part. This implies that for those of us who work on simulation there is an altogether different challenge now that takes us to a whole new level. Exciting!

Now the lunch conundrum: in between sessions we have an hour long lunch break. As the conference hotel is a resort (away from town) there arent many restaurants one can run to for a quick bite. the resort restaurants serve great food, but being upmarket places, these take time. So its difficult for them to cater to all the delegates and still have everyone served and off within the hour. Thus the conundrum, shall I risk being late for a talk and enjoy a delicious though sightly pricey lunch, or shall I sustain myself for the day on coffee? How would you solve this?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Parallel Processing and talks

I had said earlier that I would cherry pick the talks to attend and thought that had solved everything for me. But no, because a closer look revealed that in every session I had to attend 3 talks simultaneously! A bit of an ask.

The solution then came in the form of the recorded talks/sessions that will be available on the OSA website:
Which means I can focus on one session at a time and view the other talks at my convenience. Parallel processing dilemma  solved.
Today was Theory, Modelling and Numerical Simulations. I was particularly pleased to see modelling being given more than one session as increasingly modelling is used in almost every branch of photonics. Even scientists whose primary focus is experimental work, rely on simulation for design/improvement of components or to understand phenomena. It brings down costs and shrinks the time cycle involved. However, rarely do we see entire sessions in conferences devoted to these topics.

My own work is primarily on numerical simulation methods, techniques and applications. It is an exciting field and one that is incredibly wide-ranging in the applications it has. I apply Finite Element Analysis for modelling PCF (determine their dispersion, birefringence, non-linear properties), THz waveguides (optical modes of Quantum Cascade Lasers), Photonic Crystals ( design these for slow light applications) and even for designing AR coating for solar cells.

Maxwell's equations are incredible, in that they are scale invariant and till now, solution of these  equations for almost any frequency range/device length scale, gives the correct solution in the classical regime. They are a powerful tool for any optical scientist and one that I thoroughly enjoy using in conjunction with my love for patterns.

More on that later...

Friday, June 15, 2012

My first blog, OSA and Colorado!

So I am off....! This is my very first blog ever. Quite exciting to be communicating into the void (hopefully it wont be a void if someone reads this!). I hope to engage you in discussions about all kinds of things: drawing inspiration from nature to make new and exciting photonic components (my passion), talking about open access publication, the peer review process and much more.

First things first though:
what set me off on this virtual blog-journey is OSA.
I am presenting a paper (SW4F.6) and attending the Advanced Photonic Congress (
at Colorado. Initially I thought I was attending just the Specialty Optical Fibers and Application meeting, but then I realised that there were no less than 7 meeting collocated... which means I'll cherry pick and attend a bit from each. And what a selection there is on offer.
 I am particularly looking forward to the sessions on Theory, Modeling and  Simultions I: Numerical Methods; II: Plasmonics and Nanophotonics,  Joint SOF and NP session for starters. this will be such a fantastic opportunity to hear talks from a  very large variety of sub-disciplines and meet many people.

I knew that OSA had blogging volunteers so I thought I'd give it a try. It may help me meet more people (hate it when you arrive at a huge conference, dont know  many people and feel lost). Plus given that one of my papers is in the graveyard shift (last paper on Wednesday in Colorado I, Rogue Waves and Novel Propagation Effects, SW4F.6) it seemed like a good idea to drum up some interest and audience!

So here is a bit of unashamed interest drumming up: my paper (SW4F.6) is on using a spiral arrangement of air holes to get special dispersion properties in PCF. I found this work a lot of fun as I enjoy identifying patterns and their possible applications. Spirals are present everywhere: if you look closely you'll see them in nature everywhere. And I have spent the last 4 years exploring some of the properties we can get from spirals when we translate these beautiful, elegant and mathematically intriguing curves into photonic designs.

Having given a teaser about my work (more to follow in later blogs), I can now rave about Colorado: I believe it is beautiful and I am looking forward to some sunshine and natural beauty after the rather wet and miserably cool start to  the summer in London. Hopefully I can find out about the places to see when I arrive!

On this note, I must run to pack my case (its rather large too!).