By Lisa Huff, Discerning Analytics
Last night, Mary Lou Jepsen, Executive Director of Engineering at Facebook and Head of Display Technologies at Oculus, gave us a lot to think about in her speech at the OSA 100-year anniversary Light the Future event. She carried us through history, describing seemingly insurmountable obstacles that scientists have had to endure to give us, the optical communications community, as well as the general public, devices that not only enrich our lives, but also sometimes save it. From Fourier to Newton, Curie to Einstein, each had to overcome hardships in their lives to develop tools on which optical communications now relies. Even though now we respect and honor these early pioneers in science, when they were living, they were “banned” from actually doing their work for many years. What might the world be like now if only Fourier could have focused on his math and physics instead of fighting with Napoleon or if Marie Curie was allowed to work openly on her research? Could she have won a third Nobel Prize? Where would we be in optical communications today if Newton would have been able to publish his book on optics when it was originally written instead of having to wait until his main rival, Hooke, died?
Her message extended to the very core of our humanity; diversity breeds better results. Ms. Jepsen pointed out that nationwide in the US, there are 1.5 million technology jobs yet the unemployment rate for young African Americans still stands at about 23%—more than 5 times the overall average of 4.3% as of February 2016. Being a woman in a white-male dominated industry, I am all too familiar with this situation and the message hit home. Looking around the room, the data was confirmed. While we did not create this situation, it is our responsibility to change it and eliminate the barriers that are keeping diversity at bay. When considering candidates in the technology field, we must look beyond the resume and ask a few pointed questions that may help us correct the situation and lead us to the next Einstein.
There are so many possibilities for the use of optics. Ms. Jepsen challenged the OSA community to constantly push against the known and accepted way of looking at the science. Are there ways to be able to directly communicate with the human brain by bringing together consumer electronics, opto-electronics and Big Data? Why can’t we find life on other planets, communicate with animals or detect and cure cancer on a molecular level before it becomes stage one? Why can’t we cure cancer with rainbows? By using both the optical rainbow and the human rainbow, the possibilities are limitless.
Watch Ms. Jepsen's speech.
Posted: 25 March 2016 by
Lisa Huff, Discerning Analytics
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