I participated in an overseas conference and gave a presentation. This was the first time I went overseas since the pandemic. The whole experience was a mix of excitement, concern, restlessness, and happiness. Let me explain.
This was my first overseas trip of any kind since the pandemic
As it was for everybody, 2020 and 2021 were not the best years for travel. Some people couldn’t leave their homes, for instance. I think we all crave that interpersonal connection with other people. For most, the first thing is going to be family. That comes first. A far second would be the personal relationships we have built over the years.
I remember the disappointment I felt when a conference I was really looking forward to was cancelled by our CEO. The location was in a beautiful location in Barcelona, I was giving two talks and one workshop at the event, and I had my hotel and flight all lined up, ready to go. It turns out that the CEO had amazing foresight, as the EU shut down during the time our event was supposed to happen.
For me, apart from friends and family, a large part of my connections has been the optical community to that I have devoted all of my working years towards. Even before becoming a lens designer or an optical engineer, I had been part of the optical community such as SPIE and OSA (now Optica) for many many years. Of course, most of the communication might have been emailing, but the conferences where we could all meet and exchange ideas were a unique part of the job.
This event, the Aachen Polymer Optics Days event, was the first in-person event I attended overseas since the pandemic happened. That was over two years of Zoom calls or Teams calls with people from overseas.
With all of the Zoom meetings going on, I became numb to the fact that there are instances where in-person interactions can be so much better. The instant feedback, and the sharing of the same space, all of that are things that bring the magic to in-person interactions. There is something to be said about talking to people, looking them in the face, and getting their reaction without your internet connection slowing things down.
Zoom and Teams certainly made the world a closer place since we can call people up easily. It doesn’t really replace the experience I had on this trip. We’ll see if the metaverse can.
I participated in the Aachen Polymer Optics Days 2022 conference
The Aachen Polymer Optics Days conference is a biennial conference, which means it happens every two years. It is held in Germany, and understandably, there are many German individuals that attend. However, the conference itself is an international conference, and there are many people that come from abroad, myself included. This year, most people seemed like they travelled from Europe, but there were a few people that attended from the US as well. Apart from myself, there were also a number of people from Asia. As expected, this conference confirms my belief that Germany is a clear leader in optical design, optical engineering, and all things optical.
Although this is a biennial event, They skipped 2020, for obvious reasons. Thankfully, they were able to hold the conference this year. I participated in 2018, but at the time I attended as a spectator in between many European customer visits. This time, I was contacted by the organizing committee if would present some material related to polymer optics.
This is the venue convention center, a location that is a coworking space that had a large conference room. There were about 150 people in attendance, for a niche subject but with many disciplines. This contributed to the close-knit environment of the conference.
Please take a look at the program for the Aachen Polymer Optics Days 2022 conference, and you can see a variety of subjects.
- Session I – New and conventional materials
- Session II – Tool and mold making
- Session III – Replication technologies
- Session IV – Metrology / Quality / Digitization
- Session V – Optical Systems
I have some takeaways from this conference that I would like to share.
1. The scope of the conference was narrow, but that provided extreme depth to the conversations.
As I said earlier, this conference is for polymer optics. This is a rather niche subject if you think about the whole of optics and photonics. Let’s take a typical conference on optics and photonics, for example. We can have people present an AR/VR optical design, and then perhaps the manufacturing of a surveillance camera system, and then perhaps how a Head-up-display (HUD) is used in the real world. Not to say that this kind of topic structure is not insightful, it truly is. The good part is that we can get a variety of insights. But if we are not careful, we can also get a scattered representation of the subject.
On the other hand, at the Aachen Polymer Optics Days conference, we had everyone concentrated on polymer optics, but in various disciplines. . We had people from many disciplines join. I represented optical design for polymer optics. There were people on the manufacturing side, such as tooling polymers materials and moulding polymer lenses. There were people who specialized in the design of new optical polymers, and chemists that design the mixing of molecules to make the next great polymer for optical design.
Therefore, I don’t mean to say that the narrow scope is a negative thing. It is a huge positive, and one that many other conferences do not replicate because it is not easy to do.
2. I purposefully tried to stand out at the conference.
There is a LinkedIn post here. They could have chosen a more photogenic person holding the microphone than the picture they decided to post 😉
I sat at the front. I asked a lot of questions. I interacted with as many people as I could. I didn’t quite stand out as much as I did last time in 2018, but in the end, I think I was noticed because I gave a presentation. Again, being a short Asian man with North American English amongst very large German people was probably good enough to stand out.
Hey, I’m not trying to stand out from an egotistical perspective. I was very excited because this was a unique chance for me to interact with like-minded people. And it had been much too long. Coffee breaks were with conversations between various people and various disciplines, I made new connections and rekindled old ones, ones I made prior to my current job.
I came to realize that anyone can help anyone with their knowledge. It doesn’t matter if you are a senior or a junior, an expert or a novice, your own unique experience and insight into a problem can help others. It is worth putting yourself out there, even if it may seem scary.
3. As usual, the tour of the Fraunhofer Institute and other facilities was great.
The Fraunhofer Institute was the main organizer of the conference. As organizers, they put a lot of time and preparation to make their tour of the facility. I was surprised when I first saw their willingness to show us around the first time, but I was not surprised this time and was looking forward to this part of the event. They did not disappoint. Sure, some of the facilities were the same as last time, but in the four years since last time, there were different innovations that they are now concentrating on.
Fraunhofer also has many spin-off companies that start with the research side at Fraunhofer but then split away into their own business.
Here is a quick recap of the Fraunhofer institute tours:
- Fraunhofer IPT, dealing with lasers for optical systems, material tooling, and metrology. Also, there is a Medical division.
- Fraunhofer ILT, which does competencies for mass production, such as production processes, production machines, and even looks into production metrology. It also has many Business Units as well
- Fraunhofer IKV, a research institute with strong ties to RWTH Aachen University）
4. I did a presentation on the optical design of mobile phone lenses.
And I used this exact image in my slide deck.
I used my 17 years of optical design experience and talked about the complex shape of a mobile phone lens, and decode why the shape is this way. No equations (because I hate equations), but concepts and reasonings to why we have the shape that it is. I logically explained each facet of the design.
- An introduction to the requirements of the mobile smartphone lens
- What materials do we need for a mobile smartphone lens design
- What optical criteria do we use to design a mobile smartphone lens
- What aspherical shapes do we need for a mobile smartphone lens design
- What manufacturing considerations we need to make for a mobile smartphone lens design
- What testing do we need to consider for a mobile smartphone lens design
“The optical design method of a smartphone lens” is a huge piece of itself. But if I can give a few spoilers, it would be the below.
What materials do we need for a mobile smartphone lens design
To mass-produce hundreds of millions of iPhones a year, it needs to be injection moulded with plastic (polymers). When I investigate the types of plastic, I see that there are only a few choices. I have to accept this fact and work on my design with this restriction.
What optical criteria do we use to design for a mobile smartphone lens
I talked about the typical methods of evaluating the optical performance of lenses, and historically we do it with optical aberrations. I looked into Field Curvature in particular, and how the Petzval Sum of a lens system with only plastic lenses cannot be corrected to zero. The shape of the lenses in a mobile smartphone lens gives us insight into why the shape is like it is.
What aspherical shapes do we need for a mobile smartphone lens design
What manufacturing considerations do we need to make for a mobile smartphone lens design
The lenses cannot just sit in the air, we need lens barrels to hold them and we can make lens edges to the plastic lenses to accommodate the lens barrel shape.
What testing do we need to consider for a mobile smartphone lens design
The lens design is only as good as it can be manufactured. Real testing is a must, but virtual prototyping can make the prototyping cycle much shorter and therefore cheaper.
It seemed like my presentation was well received, even though I went a minute or two longer on my allotted time, and my talk was right before the coffee break. It also meant that I had a rather long line of people that wanted to talk to me during the coffee break.
One person told me that my talk was entertaining. Not informative. Not well done. But entertaining. I’ll take that, thanks!
5. I am re-inspired to learn German.
Last time, I strongly felt that being able to speak German would help me a lot in the optical field. In the four years since my German has not improved one bit. If we include German-speaking countries such as Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland, there are many places where German can be useful.
The conference had translators on-site, and they were very quick in their translations of even the more technical optical terms. But If I could understand German, I feel I could have enjoyed the conference much more, and in the optical community, I could gain a higher level of insight, perhaps.
That’s why I am trying something new this time. I bought a Japanese comic book written in German.
This way, since I know what the words are in Japanese, I can extrapolate from something I already know into the accompanying German. Wish me luck.
I recommend everyone to go to a conference on lens design
Of course, I highly recommend the Aachen Polymer Optics Days conference if you are close to the area of polymer optics. There was even a speaker this time that does moulding of glass much as we do with polymers, so they do not restrict anyone from attending or even presenting.
Even if you’re not interested in the Aachen Polymer Optics Days, I still highly recommend going to a lens design conference. I can’t say enough how much this trip meant to me.
P.S. If you’re interested in more about lens design, I have a massive post on lens design that illustrates the many lens design forms that we typically see in the world. Just click on this link or get the PDF version to your inbox below.
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Bonus: The flight option I chose to fly into Aachen, Germany.
I took the Köln/Bonn Flughafen (CGN) route. Or Cologne, as we say in English.
I had a transfer in Istanbul, Turkey, and then landed in Köln. The train ride from Köln to Aachen is less than an hour and comes at least once an hour, so it was easy for me to plan to get there. Köln is a nice old city with plenty to keep you occupied.