2020 Programs, Grants and Recognition Highlights

Our programs to foster and recognize the next generation of optics and photonics are made possible through generous support of our donors. You can make a contribution at optica.org/donate.

See highlights below from our:

The 2020 annual report is now online.


Special programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Thomas M. Baer, Manu Prakash, Jeffery Wilde and Bert Hesselink, all from Stanford University, developed a UV-C chamber with the potential to decontaminate 5,000+ n95 respirators per day. Leveraging generous funding from Tom as well as Milton Chang, Erich Ippen, Ursula Gibson and Chris Dainty, we have provided 30 chapter grants in low-income countries, allowing them to produce chambers in partnership with local hospitals.

We provided 75 professional Zoom accounts, allowing student chapters worldwide to stay connected. Two thousand one hundred events were hosted, with an estimated 10,500 people impacted. The largest contingent of users has come from Russia, India, Mexico, Ukraine and Argentina.



The 2020 Siegman International School on Lasers University of Warsaw, Checiny, Poland, originally scheduled for 18 – 25 July 2020, pivoted into the Siegman School Virtual All-Stars taking place 20 – 24 July. Mazur hosted and facilitated the program. Top-rated presenters from the past six schools gave online presentations, culminating in a 1997 Nobel Laureate Steve Chu plenary. In total, 184 students, early career professionals and speakers participated.

On 13 – 17 July, we hosted the Innovation School. We transformed the program into a virtual destination. The school's spirit was very much alive — almost 50 people came together for a week of product development and customer/market research, resulting in eight unique pitches. They also joined conversations with innovative leaders like Peter de Groot, Executive Director of R&D, Zygo Corporation and Katharine Schmidtke, Director, Sourcing, Facebook.

We hosted the Subsea Optical Fiber Communications Mini Dive in partnership with Google on 04 – 06 August 2020. This online event continued the momentum toward the 2021 Subsea Optical Fiber Communications School scheduled for 15 – 21 August in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Experts from Alcatel Submarine Networks led 157 participants through a series of lectures and group exercises. We closed the program with a special conversation with the "father of the internet," Vint Cerf.

OSAF launched its first Career Accelerator in January 2020, designed to acclimate Optica students and early career members with fundamental business skills, including leadership, team building, business strategy, finance, marketing communication and negotiation skills. The first program focused on optical communications, with 67 attendees from 19 countries.



The Milton and Rosalind Chang Pivoting Fellowship was awarded to Nirmal Punjabi, Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, India. This fellowship is a "no strings" stipend of USD 50,000 awarded to an early career professional committed to advancing science through nontraditional career paths. Nirmal is pivoting his career as a scientific researcher to dedicate himself full-time to closing the gap between the lab environment of sensor development and real-world implementation of sensors for environmental and health care applications.

The Thomas F. Deutsch Fellowship in Biomedical Optics was awarded to Markus Seeger, Technische Universität München. Seeger seeks to develop novel photoacoustic microscopy technology. He aims to achieve direct and comprehensive access to the molecular composition of living specimens, with high speed and resolution, to advance biomicroscopy in biologic and biomedical research. He is partnering with Seemantini Nadkarni and Brett Bouma, Wellman Center for Photomedicine.


Scholarships, recognitions and grants

The Ivan P. Kaminow Outstanding Early Career Professional Prize was awarded to Chaitanya Kumar Suddapalli, ICFO, Spain.

In March at OFC, we recognized the following honorees:

At the virtual CLEO on 11 – 15 May 2020, we recognized several prize recipients:

  • Bernard J. Couillaud Prize recipient Bo Li, Cornell University. This prize is a USD 25,000 stipend endowed by Coherent, Inc. Bo’s presentation at CLEO was “Video-rate three-photon imaging of awake mouse brain.”
  • James P. Gordon Memorial Speaker Jelena Vuckovic, QFarm, Stanford-SLAC Quantum Science and Engineering Initiative Stanford. Her presentation was “Integrated Quantum Photonics.”
  • Tingye Li Innovation Prize recipient Julia Gessner, Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, for her paper “Ultrafast Charge and Spin Dynamics in Ferromagnets.”
  • Theodore Maiman Student Paper Competition winner Jaco Fuchs, ETH Zurich, for his paper “Time delays from one-photon transitions in the continuum.”

We transformed the Incubic/Milton Chang Travel Grants to publication fee grants impacting 170 people in 2020. Several grants went to students who were presenting for the first time at CLEO.

The Emil Wolf Outstanding Student Paper Competition, Jean Bennett and the Robert S. Hilbert Memorial Grants were repurposed to cover the publication fees for 50 student presenters at Optica’s annual meeting Frontier in Optics. Additionally, we partnered with IBM to cover 70 students presenting at the Quantum 2.0 conference.


Professional development and student chapter programs 

The Optica Ambassador Program recognized ten new members with its 2020 class. Though the typical in-person mentoring and networking with students and early career professionals was not possible, the ambassadors have led virtual programs and stayed connected with student chapters online.

We pivoted from in-person training to online webinars. These sessions have been a part of the suite of programs available at optica.org/WEAREON. Topics have ranged from teaching your kids optics at home, getting a job online and even managing stress.

Most of the International Optica Network of Students (IONS) conferences opted to postpone until 2021; however, IONS OPUMA 2021 hosted by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México student chapter converted to a virtual conference, a first IONS of its kind.

We hosted a virtual advocacy training for 22 members focused on demonstrating the importance of the connection between government and science.


Diversity and inclusion 

The Diversity and Inclusion Advocacy Recognition honors individuals and organizations significantly impacting areas of diversity and inclusion. The Optica Foundation funds the prize and promotion. This year, Arti Agrawal, University of Technology Sydney, Australia; Jennifer Burris, Appalachian State University, USA; and the Department of Physics, St. Mary's College of Maryland, USA, were acknowledged for outstanding accomplishments and celebration of diversity and inclusivity in optics and photonics.



The Optica Foundation manages the endowments for the society's awards and medals. To learn more about those recognized in 2020, visit optica.org/awards.