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  5. Hiroshi Ohki, General Manager of Research & Development Headquarters, Core Technology Center "The industry-academia alliance is shaping the future of the optical industry."

The industry-academia alliance is shaping the future of the optical industry.

Teaching the latest technologies practiced in the optical industry — at a class of the Advanced Course of Optical Engineering.

We interviewed Mr. Ohki, at the Nikon Chair of Optical Engineering, Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo. Mr. Ohki, would you tell us what the basic role of research donation is?

Research donation is designed to support R&D activities in various forms. When private enterprises and organizations receive donation requests from universities, they provide donations in the form of funds, manpower or seminars.

The Nikon Chair of Optical Engineering is a research class Nikon supports, as the name implies, is it not?

Yes, it is. The Nikon Chair of Optical Engineering was established as a donation from Nikon, at Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo, situated at Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo in November 2006. For Nikon, it’s a part of CSR activities, and this class aims to foster engineers who will lead the next-generation optical industry. Research donation generally covers either work dedicated mainly to research or that focused principally on education. At this research class, we specialize in the education of postgraduate students. This is not so common, as most research donation activities tend to focus on research.

So, you give lectures to postgraduate students.

Yes. In the winter semester at the University of Tokyo, which runs from autumn to winter, lectures are held entitled the Advanced Course of Optical Engineering — 13 times during the semester.

What is optical engineering? What differentiates it from optics?

Optics in academia covers everything pertaining to light, which includes vast areas of research and study. We use the term optical engineering specifically for the optical industry.

Does this mean that your Advanced Course of Optical Engineering teaches technologies, as well as theories, used in the optical industry, such as at Nikon?

Correct. I myself give the first 5 lectures of the total 13. My lectures are an outline of image optics study. They cover subjects ranging from geometric optics, to wave optics, to the latest super-resolution technology.
The other 8 lectures feature such subjects as digital image processing or training for lens design. In training sessions, PCs are leased to all the participating students. Nikon’s IC stepper and scanner developers or optics designers at the forefront of the industry join the class to give face-to-face lessons. In this way we can deliver amazingly advanced lens-design lessons that no one else can offer.

Today, it is difficult to find a good place to learn about optical engineering.

Why do you focus on the teaching of optical engineering, in particular?

Because these days it isn’t easy to find a good place to study it.

Why exactly is that?

In Japan, it is rare to find a college or university that provides optical engineering in their curriculum. Subjects such as electrical engineering, mechanical design, software design and the like are widely available in the subsections of a college or university’s engineering faculty — electrical and electronics engineering, mechanical engineering, information technology and communication engineering, for example. However, it is not easy to find a faculty where you can learn about optical engineering. It’s a subject that would have been available at a faculty of science or physics in the past. Today, the trendy subjects in the study of optics at universities are quantum optics*1 and nonlinear optics*2. Universities deal with the popular subjects of the time, which however does not necessarily reflect the needs of the industry at the time. Engineering faculties that provide the opportunity to study optical engineering are still not numerous. So I must say the basic education of optical theory and technology that truly reflects the needs of the industry is lacking at universities today.

Are you saying that the optical engineering directly connected to the forefront of the industry today is not cutting-edge technology?

No, I’m not. Optical engineering technologies directly connected to the industry are progressing very rapidly year by year, particularly in the business fields of cameras, microscopes and IC steppers. The point is — the genuine science of quantum optics in search of the very nature of the light and the heart of the phenomena is heading in a scientific direction different from that of our industrial optical engineering. My Advanced Course of Optical Engineering class teaches the basics of optical technology in industry. I show my students the technologies that the optical industry utilizes at the forefront of its business. Once they acquire some knowledge of optical engineering, they can understand the industry more fully.

If places where you can learn the basics of optical engineering are decreasing in number, it isn’t good for the future of the optical industry.

That’s right. The optical industry of Japan is indeed a leader of the world. Japan’s market share of compact digital cameras in the world is approx. 80%, while that of digital SLR cameras is almost 100%. That of LC steppers and scanners is also close to 100%. The market shares of IC steppers and scanners and optical microscopes are very high, too. These are just roughly estimated figures, but you can easily see how the optical industry of Japan holds a dominant share of the worldwide market.

If there are not enough places where people can learn the basics of optical engineering, fewer young students who can play a role in the future development of the optical industry will emerge in Japan.

People could learn about the optical technologies required by the industry after they join an enterprise, once they acquire sufficient knowledge of the basics of optics at colleges or universities. But if we need a qualified person who can command a wide overall view of all activities of the optical industry, we may need to create such opportunities in colleges or universities to train and foster such a person.

  • *1Quantum optics: The study of light, based on quantum mechanics, focusing on the actions of light or interactions between light and matter.
  • *2Nonlinear optics: The study of light, particularly special phenomena — nonlinear phenomena not proportionate to the magnetic field of light — caused by interactions between extremely strong light (a laser beam or similar) and matter.