General Chair: Michael Brodsky, U.S. Army Research Laboratory, USA
Chair Elect: Cristian Antonelli, University of L’Aquila, Italy

The IEEE Photonics Society Summer Topicals Meeting Series grows technical communities and facilitates information exchange in rapidly expanding “hot” research areas in the general field of Photonics. The intimate environment of a small conference provides an opportunity to learn about emerging fields and interact with research and technology leaders. Historically, the conference hosts between four and seven individual topics and attracts about thirty to fifty participants per topic. Being a testing ground for the IEEE Photonics Society annual meeting, the Summer Topicals provide a chance for exploring research domains not yet represented at the IEEE Photonics Conference.

For the second year in a row, the IEEE Summer Topicals Meeting Series went virtual because of the pandemic, with the 2021 Series taking place on July 19–21. Despite the virtual format, the meeting was very successful: it hosted five exciting topics, with 130 invited talks and 31 contributed talks, and 288 registered attendees from all over the world. This year all of the talks were pre-recorded and made available online before the conference began. Then, during the sessions, each pre-recorded talk was followed by engaging discussions with the authors that were available live. For one topic—Structured Light and Beyond—the chairs decided on a different format. Their sessions did not stream the pre-recorded talks and were devoted entirely to panel discussions.

The online conference format presents additional challenges for international events with a global audience. This year’s conference included a long break between morning and evening sessions (from 1 PM to 6 PM EST). This way, each session fell in working hours for attendees from at least two out of the three geographical areas involved—Asia, Europe, and North America.

The IEEE staff selected a very user-friendly platform for hosting the Summer Topicals, which made the attendance experience easy and hiccup-free. A notable feature of the platform was the avatar-based virtual meeting room. It provided a surprisingly realistic emulation of convention-center lobbies, where you see colleagues and friends chatting in groups. As you move around the room from one group to another, you hear the voices of people in your vicinity, and the conversations become louder as you approach a certain group. We would highly recommend using this platform also for other online events of the IEEE Photonics Society.


The Topics in Brief

The individual topics change from year to year and are decided based on proposals that are submitted in response to the annual call for topics; check the call for the 2022 Summer Topicals in this issue of the IEEE Photonics Society Newsletter.

Five topics were selected for the 2021 conference out of a number of proposals. The Photonics for Information Processing topic addressed the reconstruction of optical and microwave signals based on photonic technologies, with applications to metrology, spectroscopy, bio-photonics, optical communication, and artificial intelligence. The Reconfigurable Optics and Photonics topic dealt with agile manipulation of light and its interaction with matter, through reconfigurable optics and photonics, emphasizing dynamic optical response tuning. Current scientific and technological bottlenecks facing the development of Si-compatible mid-infrared materials and devices were the subject of the Silicon-Integrated Mid-Infrared Photonics topic. The Structured Light and Beyond topic focused primarily on the interaction of structured light with the environment, spanning research areas of hollow-core fiber, quantum states of light, and transmission through turbulent media. Finally, the Ultra-wideband Optical Fibre Communication Systems topic covered the near-to-mid-term approach to increasing the capacity of fiber-optic communication systems by utilizing multiple spectral bands (~1300–1600 nm) or in some cases novel transmission fiber technologies with wider low-loss windows.


Highlights From the Technical Sessions

The topic chairs provided us with their thoughts on emerging thrusts in their fields and on what were the most remarkable advances reported during the technical sessions.

In the opinion of Dr. Haoshuo Chen from the Photonics for Information Processing topic, two particularly important research thrusts are the development of techniques for transmitting images through multimode fibers and utilizing optical processing and photonic integration for AI computing.

Dr. Chen reports the following two highlights: “Dr. Ivo Leite from European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Germany, and his co-workers at Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology demonstrated a hair-thin endoscope, opening new perspectives in biophotonics and biomedical imaging…. Prof. David Moss from Swinburne, University of Technology, Australia, presented their recent achievement of a photonic convolutional accelerator with a record 11 TeraFLOPs per second.”

Dr. Tian Gu from Reconfigurable Optics and Photonics topic reports the following highlights: “… Prof. Harry Atwater from Caltech gave a Plenary talk that discussed electrically tunable chip-based metasurface phased arrays configured for beam steering and focusing, which paves the road towards future implementations in LIDAR and free-space communications…. Prof. José Capmany from Universitat Politècnica de Valencia presented a Tutorial talk that covered a wide variety of aspects of programmable integrated photonics as well as key applications in signal processing and computing… Prof. Nikolay Zheludev from University of Southampton and Nanyang Technological University delivered a Plenary talk that reviewed recent progress on nanomachine metamaterials driven with electromagnetic forces. Prof. Wim Bogaerts from Ghent University and IMEC gave a Plenary talk on general-purpose programmable photonic integrated circuits for deployment in diverse applications.”

According to Dr. Gu his field is a rapidly evolving and expanding with the main thrust being the development of scalable, dynamic control of reconfigurable optical and photonic systems towards high-impact applications such as imaging, sensing, and computing.

Prof. Oussama Moutanabbir from the Silicon-Integrated Mid-Infrared Photonics topic pointed out that, “The technological potential of silicon-compatible mid-infrared photonics brought exciting new challenges at the materials and device levels. There are several directions towards this objective (all group IV, hybrid III-V-on-Si, 2D materials, etc.)… There are already a few proof-of-concept demonstrations of applications in sensing, imaging, and free space communication, but there are still challenges facing their scalability and performance.”

Dr. Leily Sehaar Kiani from the Ultra-wideband Optical Fibre Communication Systems topic reports a growing cost-effectiveness and business case for the adoption of UWB transmission in terrestrial systems and an interesting contrast with (electrical) power-constrained submarine systems where space-division multiplexing is more attractive. According to Dr. Kiani, three key research areas in the field are ultrawide-band enabling hardware (novel transmission fibers, SOAs, WDMs, fiber amps); reliable capacity assessment; application of machine learning methods to Raman (and EDFA GFF) amplifier design and analysis of SRS impact on UWB systems.

Thoughts on the Conference Format Every attendee clearly revealed a strong desire of returning to in-person conferences. At the same time, it became obvious that online events have their own value to bring to the community, and the IEEE Photonics Society could certainly benefit form some of the features of this format in the future. An important outcome of 2020 and 2021 Summer Topicals is that online meetings should last at most about three hours per day and that time should be devoted mostly to live panel discussions, rather than to streaming pre-recorded talks.

In addition, a consensus emerged that making the recorded material available online before and after the conference is of great value. In response to this feedback, all of the pre-recorded talks with the respective recorded live Q&A sessions will be available on demand on the IEEE Summer Topicals Meeting Series 2021 website until 21 September 2021.


Concluding Remarks

It was great to see many vibrant discussions. The topic chairs did a superb job in gathering the most active representatives of their own research areas. We hope that new exciting collaborations and ideas were triggered. Coordinating the conference was a real challenge, and we all are indebted to our incredibly efficient, professional, friendly, and patient IEEE staff.

We are now planning the IEEE Summer Topicals Meeting Series 2022 as an in-person conference in Cabos San Lucas, Mexico. The call for proposals is available in this issue of the IEEE Photonics Society Newsletter. Submit your proposal for a new topic: We hope to see you in Los Cabos!!!