Friday, January 29, 2010

Photonics West--what theatrics and so not 2009

I don't know if it's the new Moscone Center venue, the laser show at the conference reception, or the fact that this is 2010, not 2009, but Photonics West was really booming this year. And the statistics say it all: over 18,000 visitors, a new record. That is now more than Semicon West, in both visitors and booths. (Don't believe me? Check here.)

First, there was the venue. San Francisco is more expensive, and a lot of us locals have easier access getting in and out of San Jose. But there was a classier feel to the show this year. It's like Photonics West moved to a major league ballpark. And the vendors that were formerly in the tents in San Jose must have felt a lot better getting equal traffic at Moscone. At least the roof wasn't leaking on the rainy days like before.

Then there were the theatrics. SPIE put on a great reception, with Cirque performers, old clips of lasers from James Bond, and a laser magic show. There was a great exhibit of old lasers in the North Hall. And it helped that Apple unveiled its iPad on Wednesday on the same block. If you go out to a restaurant, you are more likely to recognize someone in San Jose and less likely to encounter panhandlers, but San Francisco has more stuff happening.

And finally, there was the economy. The feeling was that if you showed up, that's already an achievement. 2009 was a terrible year, but companies responded to the recession quickly, and the market seems to have bottomed out in mid- to late-2009. This time last year the market was still in decline. We were still looking at the abyss. Now, while visibility is still poor, the most likely scenario is modest growth from the new low, plus or minus in either direction a little.

Photonics West is about product development, which still must go on even during recessions. Conference highlights were: OCT imaging, molecular imaging, or for that matter, anything combining bio and imaging. In fact, BiOS was booming. Also mid-infrared, quantum cascade lasers, and terahertz.

On the show side, I have to say that there wasn't anything that struck me as especially new this year. But then again, the Photonics West show is all about nuts and bolts, so it's hard to stand out in the middle of all that.

I also got to tour the National Ignition Facility on Thursday, which is something any laser engineer should see. But, I'll get to that another day.