This article defines the word photonics and explains the origin of the word.

Before getting into a definition of photonics, we first have to define what a photon is.

Good luck with that.

Every year at the SPIE Photonics West conference, there is a late-night panel called “What is a Photon?” at which more-or-less sober physicists still argue about the exact nature of photons. Trying to nail down a technical definition of a photon quickly spirals into abstract particle physics, and that’s not useful from a business perspective. A practical definition of a photon is this:

Photons are sub-atomic particles that are the fundamental building blocks of light in the same way that electrons are the fundamental building blocks of negative electric charge.

I will leave it at that.

The origin of the word photonics can be traced to a 1974 conference in France called, appropriately, “Photonics.” At the meeting, an international cross-section of specialists set out to define a growing area of research that, up to that point, was ambiguously named (and hyphenated) as either electro-optics or opto-electronics. The conference was meant to settle the terminology and be “the birth certificate for a new technological field which will certainly be developed in the near future.” Continue reading “Why Do We Call Photonics “Photonics”?”