Reporting from Photonics West 2011

Contributed by Paul Werbaneth, Vice President – Marketing and Applications, Tegal Corporation

Tough choice, or an easy one?

Photonics West 2011, or IEEE MEMS 2011?

Whether you decided by coin flip, oracle bones, reading the Tarot, comparing available beach activities and food and beverage options, or by preparing a rigorous cost-benefit analysis (sure you did), if you are at all into MEMS conferences then you had to decide about participating in either IEEE MEMS 2011, Cancun, Mexico, or SPIE Photonics West 2011, San Francisco, CA, as both conferences were scheduled to run the same 24 January 2011 week.

Adopted Californian as I am it was Photonics West for me this year, despite the allure of warm turquoise seas and fruity tropical drinks.

I think you’ve read reports by now (thank you Karen Lightman) about Cancun so here, for those who couldn’t make it to San Francisco, is my report from that other MEMS conference held the week of 24 January 2011, Photonics West 2011.

Many of you will have been to a SEMICON West or two over the years, a show, held annually in July, now consolidated in San Francisco’s Moscone Center North and South Halls.

I won’t say Photonics West 2011 was bigger than SEMICON West 2010, but I will say it wasn’t any much smaller, at least as gauged by floor space occupied by the Photonics West exhibitors.

And I won’t say the July weather in San Francisco can be a little challenging (I’ll let Mark Twain say that in his famous, but now discredited, observation: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”), but I will say “What’s not to like about sunny, calm, and 70 in the middle of January?”

And I definitely won’t say there didn’t seem to be much hiring going on at SEMICON West 2010, but I will say the number of dedicated recruiting booths and the number of jobs posted at individual exhibit booths at Photonics West 2011 couldn’t escape the eye of even the most casual, happily employed observer.

Good signs pointing toward an economic rally I think in these early days of 2011.

Why do I consider Photonics West to be the other MEMS conference held this past week?  If you ponder the phrase Sensors and Actuators a bit, as we like to do during our pondering time in, say … Berkeley, then it’s very reasonable to conclude this whole photonics thing is just messing about with sensors and actuators for light, just like we mess about with sensors and actuators for fluid flow, or gravity, or magnetic fields, or pressure, or inertial motion in our other MEMS activities.

OK for you?  So, with that being said, on then to the show.

Glass micromachining / microfluidics applications got your attention?  Then maybe Translume is the place for you. Or perhaps it’s Tecnisco, Ltd.  Is it just me, or am I hearing more and more about microfabrication applications based on glass – applications like the microfluidic examples here, or glass substrates being used as interposers and substrates in the 2.5D and 3D-IC?  Just asking, but the idea echoes what it was I saw in Japan during Micromachine Japan 2010, which was glass applications everywhere.

And speaking of 2.5D and 3D-IC, how about an electro optical terahertz pulsed reflectometry technique for identifying faults in Through Silicon Via structures, as offered from TeraView Limited?   The benefits are said to be much better inspection throughput than can be obtained from X-ray based TSV inspection tools, and you don’t have to worry about those darn X-rays to boot.

(Interesting Gedanksexperiment for airport security situations: offer passengers three security screening choices.  Choice 1 is Backscatter X-ray inspection, Choice 2 is Millimeter Wave inspection, and Choice 3 is a thorough physical inspection by a gloved TSA agent.  Record overall preferences.  Analyze and discuss.  Me?  I’m in the Millimeter Wave line.  Hands down.)

But I digress.

Bringing our shopping back over to the optical MEMS aisle, I have the chance to talk a bit with Marek Kowarz, Principal MEMS Scientist, at STC MEMS, the rebirth of the Infotonics Technology Center.  (STC is hiring, by the way.)  Situated in Canandaigua, NY, not far from Dr. Dick Diver’s final home (Fitzgerald, Tender Is The Night:  “In the last letter she had from him he [Dick Diver] told her that he was practising in Geneva, New York, and she got the impression that he had settled down with someone to keep house for him. She looked up Geneva in an atlas and found it was in the heart of the Finger Lakes section and considered a pleasant place.”) STC MEMS has it going on in a variety of optical MEMS design, fabrication and processing capabilities – take a look.  And say hi to Dr. Diver if you can find him.

The meat of my optical MEMS experience at Photonics West was a result of the very kind invitation I received from Arun Chhabra, Business Development Manager in the DLP Photonics MEMS business at TI, to sit in on the Emerging Digital Micromirror Device Based Systems and Applications III session on Wednesday 26 January 2011.  Thank you Arun!

If you only think about TI DLP in the context of projected entertainment (caught The King’s Speech over the weekend in a DLP-equipped theater; go see!  And go see in DLP!) then you have another thing coming.  According to Eleanor Wehner, University of Texas, “DLP allows for much faster hyperspectral imaging than competing, optical filter-based techniques.”

So what does “much faster hyperspectral imaging” get you?  It gets you real-time, non-invasive observation and measurement of the oxygenation levels of human tissue during surgical procedures, for example.  Sarah Best, also of the University of Texas (is this Texas connection thing a coincidence?) is using DLP-based hyperspectral imaging to improve the outcome in kidney cancer patients on whom she operates by applying “personalized” surgical techniques to each and every patient under her care.  As Dr. Best says, “We have used this [technique] to monitor renal perfusion during kidney cancer operations, where the blood supply to the kidney is cut off for a period of time.”  Better monitoring allows for better “titration” of just how much blood flow is the right amount of blood flow to the kidney during surgery.  Too much, and the surgery becomes harder to perform due to blood loss concerns; too little, and the kidney is starved for oxygen.

And the difference in outcome can be huge.

One other novel paper for me was this:  “High speed maskless lithography of printed circuit boards using digital micromirrors,” by Eric Hansotte, Maskless Lithography.  It is.  Literally.  Maskless lithography.  For printed circuit boards.  Based on a TI DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) light engine.  With gray-scale exposure capability.  That’s faster than digital laser-based lithography for PCB production, with better image registration than screen-printed boards demonstrate today on (potentially) distorted PCB substrates.

It’s the kind of thing makes you say “That’s cool” soon as you are exposed (hah!) to the concept.  Good paper, many potential applications I think.

And with a round or two of beverages later at our Moscone neighborhood local, The Chieftain, at which mixes Photonics West folks, the Bay Area MEMS Social Event regulars, and my sales guy Manfred, in from Germany, who mixes with the best of them, Photonics West, at least for me, drew gently to a close.

As do these notes of mine.

From San Francisco, CA, thanks for reading.



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