Editor-in-Chief Gisele Bennett reflects on the significance of inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.
© 2021 Optical Society of America
In my first editorial, I mentioned the publishing challenges our community has encountered due to the shutdowns around the globe and the disruption to research, the economy, and life in general. What I did not mention are the losses that many people have experienced this last year. I recently attended the service for a member of our optics community, Will Houde-Walter. Although I did not know Will, I am a colleague and a friend of his wife, Dr. Susan Houde-Walter. Some of you might know Susan as a past president for OSA, as a CEO, a former professor, a colleague, or friend. Although Will’s death is a sad loss for all, I attended his service to support a friend, and found inspiration for this editorial in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), curiosity, and pushing the limits of science. Will was an entrepreneur, an inventor, product developer, mentor, husband, and father. Will’s daughter spoke of the importance of her parents in influencing her choice to obtain an engineering degree. As I later found out, Susan started the “Light Touch” column in OPN and tested the optics demos in her kitchen.
I have always believed that STEM is critical to our society and needs to be supported early on in the educational system. We can make a difference in so many ways through discovery and inventions. Giving back to the next generation of scientists and engineers through STEM or STEAM (STEM combined with the arts) engagement provides a legacy. Of all the volunteer activities I have been involved with, giving optics demos with a classmate to K–12 students in the ’90s was especially rewarding. I later had the pleasure of watching this classmate and other engineers at Georgia Tech dedicate their spare time to create museum-quality optics exhibits. They demonstrated the importance and wonder of optics to thousands of middle and high school students. At this stage it is difficult to gauge how many students they influenced to pursue careers through these demonstrations, but even if only one student was inspired, that is one more engineer or scientist that we gained.
How does this editorial relate to publishing? Because of the applied focus of our journal, we can tie science to everyday life. Think about it. A recent Applied Optics Editors’ Pick article on “Detection of Burmese pythons in the near infrared vs. visible band”  is one that might capture the attention of the general community, and maybe, just maybe, get a young mind thinking about “why or how” something works and wanting to learn more. When you see a paper in Applied Optics or any other journal that you think can capture the attention of the general community, I ask that you get the information out to your network.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the invention of the hologram. Applied Optics will be launching a feature issue honoring that invention. Circling back to my opening comments, Will showed Emmett Leith how to make a rainbow hologram and worked with Emmett informally. I remember meeting Emmett and many leaders in the optics field who spent time talking to me as a graduate student and providing inputs to my research, which left a lasting impression on me. The takeaway from this article is the importance of reaching out to the next generation of engineers and scientists. You never know what lasting impression you may make. I challenge you to leverage your work in applied optics in order to share the excitement of science with your current and, hopefully, future colleagues.
Editor-in-Chief, Applied Optics
1. J. Hewitt, O. Furxhi, K. Renshaw, and R. Driggers, “Detection of Burmese pythons in the near infrared vs. visible band,” Applied Optics 60, 17, 5066–5073 (2021). [CrossRef]