The Photonics Spotlight
The Photonics Spotlight – associated with the Encyclopedia of Laser Physics and Technology – is a “blog” (web log) with the purpose of highlighting interesting news and useful information in the area of photonics, particularly laser technology and applications. The content can be related to particularly interesting scientific papers or to other forms of publications, reporting for example cute new techniques, special achievements, or useful hints.
Note that the Spotlight articles (as well as those of the Encyclopedia) are citable. Permanent links are given for each article.
This blog is operated by Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta of RP Photonics Consulting. Comments and suggestions are welcome. The news items are definitely not available for advertising, but advertisers can order banners on the right column of this page.
You can read this content in various ways:
- Just read it in your browser.
Make a bookmark to remember this page.
(Disadvantage: you may still forget to come back.)
- Use an RSS reader. We offer an RSS feed for that: spotlight.xml
- Get it via e-mail as a newsletter.
If you like this resource, share it with your friends and colleagues, e.g. via social media:
And here are the articles:
How PhD Students Should Get Supported by Supervisors
Posted on 2014-12-17 as a part of the Photonics Spotlight.
Permanent link: http://www.rp-photonics.com/spotlight_2014_12_17.html
We are dealing with a hot topic, even with relations to ethical guidelines and science fraud.
Today I would like to cover a topic which is not specific to photonics, but of general interest for the scientific community. I would like to emphasize at this point already that my article does not only touch the interests of students, but also hot topics like authorship and science fraud. (For some, the topic may even be too hot to share the article with their supervisor!) Hopefully, these thoughts will find some resonance, as I believe that this could result in great benefits not only for the quality of life of many researchers, but also for the quality and effectiveness of scientific research.
In my career as a researcher, I obtained insight into a number of research groups. There, I recognized substantial differences concerning the conditions under which PhD students are working. Some of them are related to the structure of the research group, e.g. whether there are staff members in intermediate positions (e.g. senior research assistants) in addition to a professor as the head of the group. In addition, there appear to be quite different ideas concerning what to expect from PhD students and from their supervisors. Maybe not all of these ideas have resulted from thorough reflections.
What Students Can Do, and What is Difficult
Certainly, PhD students play a vital role in most research groups. They often do the largest part of the laboratory work, like working out detailed plans for experiments, ordering needed equipment or even setting up whole labs, performing much of the experiments and interpreting experimental results. Many of them work quite hard and acquire a rather solid level of scientific and technical competence during these years.
Formulating a concrete plan for a suitable research project is a difficult task – normally requiring more experience than a beginning PhD student can have.
What is really difficult for beginning PhD student is to identify a suitable research project. After all, this requires a substantial knowledge on pre-existing work, a vision of what could and should be accomplished next, and to a realistic appreciation of the possible difficulties to be encountered in a certain project. Even though one rightly expects a PhD student to accomplish substantially more than only thoroughly carrying out a predefined plan, I believe it would normally be far too much to ask from a PhD student to work out the whole plan for his studies himself. Particularly in the early stages, vital inputs from an experienced supervisor are deadly needed.
A research project can get into a crisis, the management of which often requires more than can be expected from a student alone.
Even a well planned research project pursued by a good student can get into trouble e.g. if certain unexpected technical difficulties arise or if utterly unexpected findings are made which make the original plan obsolete. A student who is left alone in such a situation without substantial help – or even worse, with additional pressure coming from the boss, can easily get into despair. If this results in the failure of the project, the whole career can be at stake. It can be an invaluable benefit in such a situation to receive competent help and moral support from an experienced supervisor, for whom it is easier to judge a complex situation, to analyze the magnitude of the encountered difficulties and to identify the best way out of the crisis.
Benefits Provided by Supportive Supervisors
I would like to emphasize that a supervisor who sees his task in supporting students will not only avoid serious trouble and a very uncomfortable time for the student, but also contribute greatly to the success of the research group as a whole. He or she will bring important contributions to the productivity of the students' work and will also contribute to the team spirit which makes the research more pleasant for everybody and more productive due to fruitful cooperation, which can arise only on the basis of mutual trust. In the end, everybody will profit from that.
There are group leaders, however, who are too strongly focused on their personal career and seem to feel that they have no resources left for supporting others. Some of these leave students alone in trouble, while others even increase the trouble by mounting additional pressure – sometimes with the doubtful idea that this may lead to harder work by the student which will eventually solve the problem.
The Relation to Authorship Practices
An important question is who really deserves authorship in scientific publications. There is normally no question whether the student, having done most of the work, obtains a prominent position in the list of authors, but whether supervisors are to be listed there as well is a more delicate question. Generally, nobody should be an author who has not brought concrete important contributions to the published work. Amongst those who seriously dealt with this question, there seems to be a widespread consensus that it is absolutely not sufficient for authorship
- to be the leader of a group,
- to have produced the original idea for the project without having worked out any details, or
- to have read the final publication and made a few minor corrections to it.
Breaching theoretically valid authorship guidelines is still quite common, unfortunately. Some are lacking the power to fight, while others have different priorities.
Unfortunately, many supervisors (senior research assistants and particularly professors) still believe that they are automatically entitled for authorship on anything being done in their group. They consider it sufficient to have produced some vague ideas or to have paid (of course not with their own money!) for the used infrastructure, for example. Of course, a PhD student is normally not in the position to argue about such points, given the enormous discrepancy of power between him or her and the professor. Unfortunately, at many places there appears to be nobody who would be able and willing to enforce the authorship practices which are theoretically demanded from everyone. I have even experienced a case where most obvious abuse by a professor (demanding the authorship on a whole book chapter without having written a single sentence of it) has been explicitly defended rather than prosecuted by the highest ranks in a highly esteemed research institute. Obviously, these people were being less interested in upholding ethical standards than in avoiding trouble with that professor.
If serious engagement were the condition of authorship of supervisors, supervisors would be more likely to do their job.
You may ask what that problem has to do with supporting students, the topic of my article. Imagine that justifiable authorship practices would be enforced throughout in universities. As a result, professors (particularly those having large groups) could no more claim authorship in many cases where they did before. This would create an incentive not to set up huge groups without having any time to support the students, but rather to form smaller groups and to actively participate in the research. I believe that this would in the long term lead to a stronger cooperation between the different ranks in a group and that way to more productive and efficient research.
I know that not every senior researcher is able to really bring such valuable contributions as outlined above; in some cases, the students may actually be more happy to be left alone. However, if that were a serious counterargument, one might as well stop employing students on the basis that some of them turn out not to be sufficiently competent.
Supporting Students and Preventing Science Fraud
There is also a relation between the support for students and the prevention of science fraud – but not what many might think! I sometimes read that students would be prevented from forging results if they were under closer control, but I believe that this view is distorted:
A substantial risk for science fraud arises only in a serious crisis – and is in that case strongly dependent on how the supervisor performs!
The risk for fraud is surely far higher than under normal conditions if a student's project gets into a crisis (as described above) and there is no support available. Even worse, the supervisor may mount additional pressure and in that way make the student feel that the only way out very serious trouble is to produce results somehow – be it with fraud or at least doubtful practices if no other way can be seen. On the other hand, imagine a helpful supervisor, where a student has a very attractive option: just to go there, openly discuss the problems and obtain valuable help for solving the problems. Which student would be crazy enough to forge results rather than to accept valuable help?
After certain scandals became public, I asked myself whether I could rule out the possibility that a student could once have forged results without me noticing it. The answer: I am sure there would have been ways to accomplish that, but I also firmly believe that it never happened – simply because there was never an incentive for a student to do so. While I never treated my students as schoolboys who need to be observed in every moment, I was always prepared to work hard in order to bring really helpful contributions when a project encountered difficulties.
When thinking seriously about these things, I believe one can only come to the conclusion that a large part of the responsibility for providing science fraud is on the side of supervisors. As long as these do their job well, I believe there is a minimal risk of fraud. On the other hand such a risk can become substantial if people are sliding into a situation where fraud appears to be the only way to avoid dire consequences. Just telling students that fraud is evil will certainly not solve the problem – I am sure they all know that.
You may also like to read an article which I wrote five years ago: "Risk factors for scientific fraud and the scientist's responsibility".
Correctly Designing Frequency Conversion Stages: Not Easy, but Worthwhile!
Posted on 2014-11-14 as a part of the Photonics Spotlight.
Permanent link: http://www.rp-photonics.com/spotlight_2014_11_14.html
Nonlinear frequency conversion is often used in laser technology – in conjunction with continuous-wave lasers and pulsed lasers. In similar ways as for lasers, the correct design of frequency conversion stages is essential: not only for obtaining the optimum power conversion efficiency, but also for preserving beam quality, achieving a sufficiently high lifetime of the nonlinear crystal material, etc. And indeed there are quite a few design details where the correct choice is certainly not obvious. In particular, you have to decide about what type and length of nonlinear crystal to use, what phase-matching configuration to employ (e.g. critical or noncritical?), how tightly the laser beam should be focused into the crystal, etc. For pulses, in particular for ultrashort pulses, a number of additional aspect comes into play; one may have to consider the phase-matching bandwidth or the group velocity mismatch or peak intensities in the context of possible laser-induced damage.
Surprisingly, however, a large percentage of people developing laser devices still use a trial-and-error approach:
- For example, they select a certain crystal simply because that material has been used successfully in another device, even though the circumstances are quite different.
- They would purchase dozens of crystals with a certain length, not knowing whether half the length (which certainly makes it much cheaper) would be sufficient or possibly even better.
- They would just take some curved mirror or lens to focus their laser beam into the crystal, neither knowing what size the beam waist will have, nor what value would be appropriate.
If the conversion efficiency appears to be satisfactory, they would conclude that it works and can be done that way. If the boss later asks for more conversion efficiency, they do not know whether it would be possible. How far the applied intensity levels are from the laser-induced damage threshold is another question they could not answer – although the boss would certainly want them to know that!
That style of working is nicely complemented by similar practices among those selling nonlinear crystal materials, for example. Often, they know little concerning the trade-offs between different materials (except that their material is best, of course!), have no justified idea concerning an optimum crystal length, etc. Effectively, they tell their buyers: “I don't know how that stuff really works; just buy it and try yourself!”
Quite obviously, this is not the recommended way of working in a high-tech area like photonics. It is highly inefficient, possibly leading to poor performance, unnecessary cost for materials and parts, time-consuming problems with optical damage, etc. But why are people working like this? Possibly just because they cannot do it better, and believe that they could not do it better. Learning often does not appear to be a contemplated option.
Admittedly, there is no fast way of learning all this. One first needs to acquire a thorough understanding of the underlying physics, including the knowledge of calculating details such as phase-matching angles, intensity-dependent conversion efficiencies and the like. In addition, one needs to get familiar e.g. with the typical trade-offs between different phase-matching configurations and the typical pros and cons of tight focusing into nonlinear crystals. Finally, one also requires some amount of experience e.g. in order to notice that certain degradation phenomena have to be observed when using particular nonlinear crystal materials.
When learning all this just for using it once for the design of a device, the amount of work required may be out of proportion. However, when somebody at a company regularly designs such devices, that investment into solid know-how will certainly pay off. And if a company does not often uses that sort of expertise, the straightforward solution is to employ an expert is an external technical consultant for getting this work done properly. Note that paying such an expert for just a few hours of work is nothing compared to what you can waste when trying silly things in the lab.
Enjoy a one-day course on nonlinear frequency conversion on Feb. 9, 2015 – the probably easiest way of getting well introduced into that area!
By the way, I will present a one-day course on Applied Nonlinear Frequency Conversion at Photonics West (San Francisco) on February 9, 2015. This would be an excellent opportunity for many to get an easy introduction into that technical area. Those already knowing the basics can still learn a lot in this course.
Besides, I'm also offering tailored staff training courses, performed at my customer's premises. That way, a whole team may learn a lot of things within just two or three days, for example
Fiber Optics Tutorials
Posted on 2014-10-03 as a part of the Photonics Spotlight.
Permanent link: http://www.rp-photonics.com/spotlight_2014_10_03.html
Today I would simply like to make you aware of some interesting resources on the RP Photonics website. Outside the encyclopedia, we have two comprehensive physics-based tutorials on fiber optics:
- One is on passive fiber optics. It explains in depth how light is guided in optical fibers and what exactly fiber modes are. The characteristics of single-mode and multimode fibers are discussed. Various other issues such as the handling of fiber ends and joints, propagation losses, polarization issues, chromatic dispersion and nonlinearities in the context of ultrashort pulse (or signal) propagation are also treated carefully.
- The other one treats fiber amplifiers. It explains how rare earth ions in fibers interact with light, how the optical gain and pump absorption can be calculated and how self consistent solution for the steady-state are found. Also, it discusses amplified spontaneous emission (ASE), issues related to forward and backward pumping, double-clad fibers, the amplification of short and ultrashort pulses and noise issues.
Sure, there are already plenty of fiber optics tutorials available in the Internet. However, I believe we go substantially further than most of these, discussing the underlying physics and depth and with care.
If you agree that these are useful high-quality materials, you are welcome to tell others, for example by linking to these tutorials on your website. If you are preparing a fiber optics course for students at a university, you may find a lot of inspiration from these tutorials.
2014-07-28: How to Define the Mode Radius of a Fiber?
2014-05-16: 10-Year Anniversary of RP Photonics
2014-01-17: Mediation in Disputes on Laser Technology
2013-12-13: Avoiding Trouble with Laser Specifications
2013-11-12: Beam Quality Limit for Multimode Fibers
2013-08-26: Frequency Doubling and the Reverse Process
2013-06-13: Two New Photonics Newsletters
2012-08-06: The New RP Photonics Buyer's Guide
2012-03-12: New Raman Lasers
2012-03-03: Conflicting Definitions of s and p Polarization
2011-12-23: Kerr-lens Mode-locked Thin-disk Laser
2011-06-10: Are Compact Resonators More Stable?
2010-07-12: Laser Development: Get an Expert Early on!
2010-06-09: Poor Man's Isolator
2010-04-26: Resolution and Accuracy of Measurements
2010-04-08: Creating a Top-hat Laser Beam Focus
2010-03-22: All-in-one Concepts versus Modular Concepts
2010-03-09: Nonlinearities in Fiber Amplifier Modeling
2010-01-29: Far From Maturity: The Photonics Industry
2010-01-22: Pumping Fiber Lasers with Fiber Lasers
2010-01-11: Beams of Laser Pointers: Visible in Air?
2009-12-31: Tilt Tuning of Etalons
2009-12-13: Johnson–Nyquist Noise in Photodiode Circuits
2009-11-18: Articles and a Quiz on Photonics Issues
2009-11-13: Photodetection: Optical and Electrical Powers
2009-11-03: Coherent Light from a Bulb?
2009-10-03: Peak Intensity of Gaussian Beam
2009-09-27: Lasers with Short Upper-state Lifetime
2009-09-19: Are Laser Resonators Power Scalable?
2009-09-01: Fresnel Reflections from Double Interfaces
2009-08-14: Progress on Green Laser Diodes
2009-08-12: What is an Optical Transistor?
2009-07-29: No Beat Note for Orthogonal Modes
2009-07-21: Signal-to-Noise Ratio and Measurement Bandwidth
2009-07-09: Gain-guiding Index-antiguiding Fibers
2009-06-29: Doing Things Properly: It's the Economy, Stupid!
2009-06-23: Coherence – a Black-or-White Issue?
2009-06-08: Prizes of the European Physical Society
2009-06-02: 5 Years of RP Photonics Consulting
2009-05-13: The Minimum Time–Bandwidth Product
2009-04-28: SPIE Field Guides
2009-04-05: Stability of Resonators – an Ambiguous Term
2009-03-02: User Interfaces for Simulation Software
2009-01-12: Chaotic Lasing Generates Random Numbers
2009-01-05: Extremely Long Mode-locked Fiber Laser
2008-12-16: Why Fiber Amplifiers, not Fiber Lasers?
2008-11-25: The Gouy Phase Shift Speeds up Light
2008-11-08: Validating Numerical Simulation Software
2008-09-24: Decoupling Pulse Duration and Pulse Energy
2008-09-10: Unpolarized Single-Frequency Output
2008-07-26: Beat Signals with Zero Linewidth
2008-07-02: Stronger Focusing Avoids SESAM Damage
2008-06-20: All-in-One Ultrafast Laser Systems
2008-06-06: Fiber Lasers Which Are No Fiber Lasers
2008-05-25: Einstein and the Laser
2008-05-05: Length of a Photon
2008-04-28: Different Kinds of Polarization
2008-04-22: Abused Photonics Terms: Coherence
2008-04-15: Abused Photonics Terms: Modes
2008-03-10: Automatic Phase Matching
2008-03-04: What is a “High” Laser Beam Quality?
2008-02-14: How Laser Development Can Go Wrong
2008-02-03: Quantifying the Chirp of Ultrashort Pulses
2008-01-27: Beam Quality in Second-Harmonic Generation
2008-01-14: Frequency Doubling: Long Pulses Cause Trouble
2007-12-18: The Role of Laser Safety Goggles
2007-12-03: New Paper on Power Scaling of Lasers
2007-11-26: Solving Laser Problems Step by Step
2007-11-10: Retirement of Prof. David C. Hanna
2007-11-02: Ultrafast Laser Kills Viruses
2007-10-31: Thermal Equilibrium in Laser Crystals
2007-10-25: The Gain Bandwidth of Laser Crystals and Glasses
2007-10-17: Why the Second-Harmonic Beam is Smaller
2007-10-11: Understanding Fourier Spectra
2007-09-21: Optimum Crystal Length for Frequency Doubling
2007-09-07: Power Scaling in Downward Direction
2007-08-27: Distant Healing of Lasers
2007-08-23: An OPO Without Resonator Mirrors
2007-08-15: Light = Electromagnetic Waves?
2007-07-06: Promoting Dangerous Practices in Laser Labs
2007-07-01: Nonsensical Regulations Undermine Laser Safety
2007-06-24: The Plague of a Narrow Emission Linewidth
2007-06-11: Beam Quality Measurements Can Easily Go Wrong
2007-06-01: Characterize Your Pump Beam!
2007-05-19: Why Strong Birefringence in Fibers Helps
2007-04-16: Questions and Answers on Shot Noise
2007-03-23: Explaining the Nature of Photons to Lay Persons
2007-03-11: Divided-Pulse Amplification
2007-03-09: The Trouble with Crystal and Coating Damage
2007-02-26: No Laser, no Result?
2007-02-22: Lossy Laser Cavities
2007-02-16: The Science of Biophotons
2007-02-09: Papers Reporting Yet Another Laser Crystal
2007-02-04: Continuing Struggle for Larger Fiber Mode Areas
2007-01-27: Noise Figure of Amplifiers
2007-01-21: Operation Far Above Threshold
2007-01-15: Origins of Heating in Laser Crystals
2007-01-09: The Myth of Fiber-Optic Polar Bears
2006-12-31: Peak Position of an Optical Spectrum
2006-12-16: Dangerous Green Laser Pointers
2006-12-09: The Laser Industry - High Tech or Low Tech?
2006-12-03: Diffraction in Optical Fibers
2006-11-28: The Role of Diffraction in Optical Resonators
2006-11-21: The Resonator Mystery
2006-11-16: Laser Models - not Always Useful
2006-11-02: Reflection Spectrum of Tilted Dielectric Mirrors
2006-10-22: Lasers Attract Dust to Cavity Mirrors
2006-10-01: Stability Zones of Laser Resonators
2006-09-22: Coherence Length of Ultrashort Pulses
2006-09-16: Q-switched Lasers: YAG versus Vanadate
2006-09-01: Test Yourself with the Photonics Quiz
2006-08-20: Lower Noise from Longer Lasers
2006-08-12: Understanding Quasi-Three-Level Lasers
2006-08-10: Single-Mode Fibers with Large Mode Areas
2006-08-01: Lasers Disturbed by Vacuum?
2006-07-24: Beam Distortions in Laser Cavities
2006-07-23: Single-Atom Lasers
2006-07-22: No Magnetic Field on the Axis of a Coil?
2006-07-16: Spontaneous Emission and Amplifier Noise
2006-07-14: Lasers Like it Cool
2006-07-10: Strength of Thermal Lensing Effects
2006-07-01: Characterizing a Cavity with a Frequency Comb
2006-07-01: With Wavelength Combs to Picometer Resolution