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Optics+Photonics 2022: Opening plenary honors the late Michael W. Berns

23 Aug 2022

Second Sunday plenary, by Dr. Jun Ye, of JILA at University of Colorado, explored quantum science and metrology.

By Matthew Peach in San Diego

On Sunday evening, SPIE 2022 President Anita Mahadevan-Jansen opened this year’s SPIE Optics + Photonics plenary program with her welcome to both the attendees and the return to full in-person operations of the event.

However Dr. Mahadevan-Jansen, who is Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University, also had the solemn duty to announce that the scheduled speaker – Dr. Michael Berns, founder of the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic at the University of California at Irvine – had passed away at the age of 79 only a week before, on August 13th.

“Mike” Berns was due to receive the highest honor of SPIE – the SPIE Gold Medal – which will now be awarded posthumously in his name. Dr. Mahadevan-Jansen told the audience gathered at the San Diego Convention Center, “in place of the talk that Mike had been preparing to give, we are revisiting a wonderfully retrospective talk he gave at the same conference in 2021.”

‘Photonic toolbox’

The presentation was entitled “Using the photonic toolbox to study chromosomes: 50 years in search of an answer!” In the recording Dr. Berns said, “Little did I know that when I published our first laser microbeam paper on chromosome surgery in 1969, that 50 years later I would still be doing just that—trying to explain the inexplicable result we saw back then.”

He said that the path to an answer of why cells with partially photon-ablated chromosomes could reproduce and maintain the photon-induced deletion in the clonal population of cells, “was a path that was solely possible by the parallel development of additional tools in the photonic toolbox.”

Development of digital-based imaging technologies, GFP-based molecular fluorescent probes, and an evolution of optical manipulation tools (photonic scissors and tweezers) were combined to provide a tantalizing answer to the question of why cells can divide and form clones following removal of a segment of their DNA.

Dr. Berns was the Distinguished Arnold and Mabel Beckman Professor at the University of California, Irvine. It is also worth noting that in 2021, he published a historical fiction novel, The Tinderbox Plot, which accurately predicted the events of January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol. More about his life and work is featured in a recent interview with SPIE.

Quantum science and metrology

Sunday’s second plenary was presented by Dr. Jun Ye, of JILA at the University of Colorado, and entitled Quantum Science and Metrology.

The research of Dr. Ye, who is a Fellow of both JILA and NIST, and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, focuses on the frontiers of light-matter interactions that include precision measurement, quantum science, and ultracold matter.

In his plenary talk, he explained how the precise engineering of quantum states of matter and innovative laser technology “are revolutionizing the performance of atomic clocks and metrology, providing new opportunities to explore emerging phenomena, test fundamental symmetry, and search for new physics.”

He said that “the recent work of measuring gravitational time dilation at the sub-millimeter scale highlights exciting prospects for new scientific discovery and technology development.”

Dr. Ye’s JILA group’s website gives further information about his team’s research and objectives; essentially “precisely controlled lasers enable our communications with microscopically engineered quantum systems of atoms and molecules,” it states. “By preparing matter in specific quantum states, and using probe light with the longest coherence time and precisely controlled waveform, we strive to make fundamental scientific discoveries and develop new enabling technologies.”

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