OSA 100 Years Story: Ronian Siew

Ronian Siew

To begin, I'd like to say that it was actually quite fascinating to read David Shafer's account of his life in optics [1], which he has written for OSA's 100 year celebration on this site, especially beginning from when he was a young boy who experimented with magnifying glasses and telescopes.  Near the end of his story, Mr. Shafer writes, "But I still find lens design the perfect career for me because of its mostly solitary nature."  Further, he adds, "I live in a conceptual universe and do not spend much time here in the real world."  That is very similar to my own experience, though I cannot claim to have as illustrious of a career as Mr. Shafer.
My story in optics and The Optical Society (OSA) began when I was an eleven year old living in the Philippines, around 1986.  And yes, I did play with magnifying glasses.  But unlike David Shafer, I did not have access to Edmund Scientific and its many fascinating optics kits.  I collected broken glasses and mirrors from junk, and broke off plastic lenses from toy binoculars in order to make a simple telescope.  From these, I accidentally discovered the “Field Stop" when I placed a round washer at the front focal plane of the plastic lens from the toy binoculars.  I also bought a cheap magnifying glass from the local bookstore, and from it, I "discovered" chromatic aberration when I accidentally covered the lens partially with some paper and pointed it to towards the Sun, resulting in an annular focused beam with the rainbow surrounding it.  Seeing that I got hooked on optics, my Dad eventually bought me a real telescope, but only after I had fulfilled a promise to him that I would get better grades in school, which I did eventually. 
I had to study very hard.  I was not an ideal student.  I was just an ordinary kid with ordinary grades.  But I had developed a deep passion for optics, physics, and astronomy, and spent a lot of time at the school's library reading all of the physics books (and even journals) that were available, even if I didn't understand them.  I just kept reading and inventing my own ideas.  For some reason, when I was still eleven, I decided to write a letter to an author of an Astronomy book.  His name was Peter Lancaster Brown, and he actually wrote back.  There was no email at the time, so, naturally, that letter took some time to arrive.  In my letter, I had asked Mr. Brown about many things, both scientific and non-scientific (I even asked him if he liked skateboarding).  But what was important was that he wrote back, and it meant a lot to me.  Beyond that, I continued to write to various other authors and even professors.
Then I wrote to The Optical Society of America, I think sometime between the years 1988 - 1990.  I can't fully remember.  I asked about membership, which I think they replied very kindly with an application form.  And I think I recall my Dad suggesting that I apply only when I got to college, because he thought that it would serve me better then.  I agreed, and I think I joined the student chapter of the OSA at the University of Rochester, sometime between the years 1993 - 1997.  How did a kid like me know about the OSA and the University of Rochester when I was living in some far off place like the Philippines?  Well, I had read about the university from a book called "Career Opportunities in Lasers" when I was around fifteen.  The book mentioned about the OSA and a number of colleges such as the University of Arizona, University of Rochester, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Stevens Institute of Technology, and the University of Alabama in Hunstville.  I applied and got accepted into all of them.  I chose Rochester mainly because its campus looked a lot like the quintessential North American college campus that I have seen so much of in the movies, with Greek structures and all.  And, it was a cold icy place in the winter, which I looked forward to in some strange way.  Maybe it was because I had never experienced snow.  So I attended Rochester in the fall of 1993, and eventually earned a BS in Optics and MS in Optics there.
As a student and later, a fresh graduate, I used to wonder about the OSA and its amazing members who were industry professionals and professors, and I looked up to them (I still do).  As a young graduate, I wondered how does one contribute as an author to a peer-reviewed research paper, and I doubted myself often.  As an undergraduate, I had tried submitting manuscripts to the American Journal of Physics and other journals.  Naturally, they were all rejected.  In retrospect, the papers weren't very good.  I was an amateur, and I thought I would never get there.  I wrote those papers on my own, without the guidance of an advisor, so it was quite an experience.  But as I matured and gained more industrial experience, my writing and thinking got better.  I also joined SPIE and contributed a number of conference papers.  Then in 2008, I published my first peer-reviewed paper in the European Journal of Physics with the title, "Corrections to classical radiometry and the brightness of stars."  The journal was an appropriate one, because it solicited papers that had a pedagogical nature rather than just pure research.  And as most of my professional work involved material that is proprietary, the Eur. J. Phys. provided me with an opportunity to publish original work that I had produced on my own, independent of my job.  And at home, with no access to expensive optical equipment, I could only really work on topics that touched on counter-intuitive theoretical ideas, which usually possess some pedagogical nature.  I was very happy with the publication at the Eur. J. Phys., especially since I did it with no special help from an advisor, nor through a PhD program.  I just did it because I liked it, and I had something new to share with the scientific world.
But back to The Optical Society.  Now, as years passed, I continued to do independent research at home whilst performing my professional duties at my day job.  It was a difficult juggle.  Eventually, when I became an independent consultant in 2013, I started to have more time to devote to my research.  But I still struggled to produce something that could be considered a research paper.  In 2015, I discovered that Professor Franco Gori had introduced the "Discussion Paper" in the Journal of the Optical Society of America A [2].  It was the ideal type of format for my kind of independent research.  That is, I've always enjoyed investigating counter-intuitive ideas, and such work does not require sophisticated and perhaps expensive lab equipment, which I do not have as an independent consultant.  Coincidentally, at the time that I discovered the "Discussion Paper" format at the JOSA A, I was working on a problem where I had found (accidentally) that the position of peak irradiance behind a focusing lens that is imaging an extended object does not lie at the lens's focal plane nor image plane.  Unlike much of the notable works reported by Vokinger et al. [3], Mahajan [4], and Rehn [5], this finding had nothing to do with diffraction or aberrations.  It was simply due to geometrical optics.  Even a perfect lens that's imaging an extended object would possess this characteristic.  I then decided that this would fit perfectly into the JOSA A as a discussion paper, and I proceeded to write it up and submit it to JOSA A in December 2015.  The paper was eventually accepted and published in April 2016.  And for about a week sometime in May, I think, it was a top downloaded paper. 
Then later this year, I found that Applied Optics had a new section called the "Engineering and Laboratory Notes", which was re-introduced by Brian Monacelli [6].  When I realized this, I was also at the same time working on a number of engineering related ideas that I thought would not really fit into any research journal unless there was a section devoted to brief notes on some applied principles.  So, I think that the Engineering and Laboratory Notes section in Applied Optics is the perfect type of paper format for some of the type of work I am doing, and I have submitted a recent paper that is currently under peer-review.
So it was a long road for me, but I guess I eventually got there through what I would consider the support of the existence of The Optical Society and its truly unique journals.  I had mentioned that during the early stages of my career, as a fresh graduate, I never thought I would be able to publish anything in a peer-refereed journal.  This was mostly because of the kind of work I did both as a professional and as an independent consultant and researcher.  But both the JOSA A and Applied Optics journals have provided unique paper sections such as the "Discussion Paper" in JOSA A and "Engineering and Laboratory Notes" in App. Opt. that offer researchers such as myself to contribute our work.  Moreover, the manuscripts are peer-reviewed, and this in my opinion provides further credibility to the research.  But I can also trace back the positive influence of The Optical Society on me to the kind letter that I had received from the OSA back in the late 1980s - 1990s, where I had written and inquired about membership.  I was just a high school student in some far off place in the world.  Yet the OSA did not neglect me.  Today, while I still can’t believe it, I'm an optics consultant (www.inopticalsolutions.com), and I have benefited from being a member, author, and reviewer at The Optical Society. 
One hundred years is a long time, and The Optical Society has come a long way.  Its journals have had a new face lift and they continue to attract paper submissions from the world's finest scientists and engineers.  Not only that.  They have continued to invent new ways to allow other authors and independent researchers to contribute truly unique papers.  So, to The Optical Society, its members, its administrators, directors, and presidents, I would like to say thank you for your hard work and great contributions to the world, especially by being a place for everyone (and anyone) with a passion for optics to come together to share that passion.

1.  http://www.osa.org/en-us/100/osa_stories/david_shafer/
2. F. Gori, "Introducing discussion papers: editorial," J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 29, pp. ED1-ED1 (2012).
3. Urs Vokinger, Rene Dandliker, Peter Blattner, and Hans Peter Herzig, "Unconventional treatment of focal shift," Optics Communications 157, 218 - 224 (1998).
4. Virendra N. Mahajan, "Axial irradiance of a focused beam," J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 22, 1814 - 1823 (2005).
5. Henning Rehn, "Elliptical reflector: efficiency gain by defocusing," in Nonimaging Optics and Efficient Illumination Systems IV, edited by Roland Winston and R. John Koshel, Proc. of SPIE 6670 (2007).
6. B. Monacelli, "Engineering and laboratory notes: introduction," App. Opt. 54, pp. 1555 - 1556 (2015).