The best part about SPIE Photonics West 2022, at least for me, was getting to meet face to face with the people making the magic, to hear them explain the technology they’re creating, to touch and examine the products once again.

The proof-of-concept prototype primary mirror element for the James Webb Space Telescope on display in the Coherent booth. (Photo: Coherent)
Whiskey tasting on the Photonics West show floor at the SPIE booth. (Photo: Bennett)

I don’t know about you, but virtual trade shows don’t cut it for me. The tech sessions are a different story. Whether I’m sitting in a conference room with 50 other people or I’m in front of my computer at home, the content and presentations are the same. Trade shows, on the other hand, are different. Looking at computer-generated graphics of a booth, pretending to interact with an avatar, is a complete waste of time. I could get more out of a press release.

But being there in person is a different story. One of the coolest things on the show floor this year was in the Coherent booth. If you’re like me, when you hear Coherent, you think lasers, right? Well, they have been diversifying over the last few years and one of the items on display in their booth was one of the first proof-of-concept mirror elements developed for the James Webb Space Telescope. Unbeknownst to many people, Coherent developed the precision polishing techniques and gold plating technology used on the JWST’s 18 primary mirror segments. Having researched and written the JWST article in the January issue of Photonics & Imaging Technology, it was a real thrill for me to be able to see and touch this piece of photonics history. You can’t do something like that virtually.

Another company I always enjoy meeting with in person is Edmund Optics (see above image). If you design optical systems and need components, you’ve no doubt dealt with them. I’ve been covering them for two decades now and every time I visit their booth I think they can’t possibly show me anything I haven’t seen before. And I’m always wrong. Two of their technologies I find particularly intriguing are their liquid lenses and their asphere coating technology, both of which I’ve asked them to share with you in future issues of P&IT.

Finally, I have to hand it to SPIE who came up with a novel way to a) ease the pain COVID has inflicted on the industry, b) numb the stress and trepidation many of us felt coming to this year’s event, or c) just give weary attendees navigating the show floor a little liquid resilience. How’s this for a novel concept — free whiskey tasting on the show floor? That’s right — simply visit the SPIE booth and you could sample any — or all — small shots of four small batch whiskies. As many times as you liked. Talk about a popular spot on the show floor! Try doing that virtually.

Read Bruce's observations from Day 1 of SPIE Photonics West.