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Since the inception of lasers in the 1960s, photonics applications have spread into almost every technological aspect of the economy. High speed communication between parties anywhere in the world, and even the Internet, are enabled by advances in photonics. Computer monitors, cell phone screens, and the machinery used to manufacture computers also use light. Photonic devices are now widely used in medicine, and by the military as an advantage over forces with less superior technology. The field has also opened a new segment of education for training workers how to use fiber optic systems, for example, or to educate budding researchers on continuing to develop new technologies.
Perhaps the most widely used photonics application is in telecommunications. Underwater cables that use fiber optics send signals in an instant to places that may be on opposite sides of the planet. In addition to cables, other parts of optical networks such as control modules, splitters, and amplifiers are photonic devices that make communication fast and efficient. Similarly, optical components built into semiconductors empower computer DVDs that read information on disks at high enough speeds to display informational and education multimedia. They also store information quickly on optical drives or chips and retrieve it just as efficiently.
Photonics applications are even more diverse in medicine, where the field of biophotonics has arisen. Light can be concentrated into small optical fibers that are used to image the inside of the body, or conduct surgery without large incisions. Lasers can be used to treat eye and heart problems, image organs and reconstruct detailed pictures prior to surgery, and understand the sequencing of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). For pharmaceuticals, light can be used to analyze the properties of medicines to understand their chemical behavior before humans ever take them
Three-dimensional models can be made for prototypes with photonic engineering. There are many photonics applications in manufacturing and it is the basis for the semiconductor and electronics business. Light can be used to measure the accuracy of machines and the products they produce, as well as control cutting machines and welders. It can even be used to analyze chemical compounds. In the military, this technology has led to the development of laser guided missiles, night vision cameras, high-tech surveillance systems such as those used on high-altitude drones, for warning against enemy attacks, and for training personnel.
From research instruments such as spectrophotometers to the use of solar panels to make energy, photonics applications are numerous and important to modern life. They allow for efficient manufacturing operations that are much lower in cost to alternative ways of production, and for instant communication that saves time and avoids lost revenue. Photonics help many industries efficiently sell high-quality and high-tech products, so are actually beneficial to the overall economy.
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