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2010: top-ten stories of the year

31 Dec 2010

Your favorite articles included progress in laser fusion, implanted telescopes and new uses for forgotten laser materials.

It’s that time of year again. And as we look back at the most popular articles of 2010 – measured according to page views from our readers – what’s most striking is the sheer diversity of photonics applications.

From consumer gadgets like holographic screens and pocket projectors, to huge scientific projects seeking to deliver fusion energy via laser-based inertial confinement. From radical treatments for blindness to the fast-moving photovoltaics industry, our top-ten list for 2010 demonstrates photonics for what it is: one of the world’s key enabling technologies.

Looking forward
In 2011, expect that to continue: we can look forward to a major expansion (but likely oversupply) of photovoltaic module production, on top of another huge increase of solar installations; further deployment of fiber lasers and early traction for ultrafast sources in both industrial applications and cataract surgery; and the LED lighting sector to grow quickly as costs per lumen edge closer to conventional light sources.

We should also get some answers. Will high-profile optical technologies like Intel’s LightPeak, or 3D television, catch on? For that matter, will the first generation of LightPeak in fact be copper-based, rather than use optics – as has been rumored in recent weeks? Will the next big mobile handset feature be the pocket projector? Who will survive the solar shake-out, and will concentrated photovoltaics finally make a significant commercial impact? Perhaps most exciting of all, will scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) make the giant breakthrough to fusion?

Time will tell, and optics.org will cover those key developments as and when they happen. For now, here are your top-ten stories of 2010:

#1 Solar shake-out (September 3): analysts tip CPV specialist Amonix for an IPO, and predict the demise of a number of CIGS developers.

#2 Holographic displays (January 15): Chinese researchers build a huge holographic screen. But they may have competition from Apple, if a recently granted patent (US 7,843,449) is anything to go by….

#3 Implanted telescope restores sight to blind (September 28): the headline says it all – clinical trials on 200 patients with end-stage macular degeneration provide some remarkable results.

#4 Intel’s photonics revolution part two (October 11): anything involving Intel and optics always catches the eye, and in the second part of our interview with key developers at the computer chip giant the focus was on silicon photonics.

#5 Forgotten laser material (September 9): the intricacies of manufacturing direct-emitting green diode lasers have stumped researchers for decades, but the devices are now on the brink of commercialization. Trouble is, those based on InGaN semiconductors suffer from a high threshold current – meaning that they will eat up all-important battery life in mobile handsets. One option is to look again at ZnSe-based materials, as a Sony-Hitachi collaboration is doing.

#6 Intel’s photonics revolution part one (August 26): the first of our interviews with Intel focused on LightPeak technology – potentially the next big thing in consumer electronics, and set to launch imminently. Doubts have surfaced recently over whether or not the first generation of products will in fact use photonic or copper connections…

#7 Laser fusion energy: commercial by 2030? (August 2): speaking at the SPIE Optics+Photonics conference plenary, NIF director Ed Moses outlines how inertial confinement fusion might have a commercial future.

#8 Pocket projectors (August 24): it’s been the next-big-thing in mobile handsets for a while, but 2010 finally saw a commercial breakthough, with more than 100 models using optics and LED sources to project photos and video onto nearby surfaces.

#9 QinetiQ cutbacks (August 19): UK technology group QinetiQ came under fire for what were seen as short-termist decisions that would have a major negative impact on the country’s photonics community.

#10 Latest fusion progress (November 10): Fusion again, as NIF researchers set new records for neutron yield from a laser-driven fusion fuel capsule, and ramp the laser energy to 1.3 MJ to test conditions at the target. Could 2011 see a laser-driven fusion reaction?

Bubbling under
Among the stories just outside our top ten in 2010 were June’s demonstration of entangled photonics from an LED source, as reported in the journal Nature, Spire Semiconductor’s new world record for solar cell efficiency – a concentrator cell converting 42.3% of focused sunlight into electricity, and the impact of China’s restrictions on rare-earth exports on optics manufacturers, causing the price of cerium oxide to soar.

About the Author

Mike Hatcher is the Editor in Chief of optics.org

SPECTROGON ABFirst Light ImagingHÜBNER PhotonicsBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationABTechHyperion OpticsLaCroix Precision Optics
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