Joyce Poon
Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics, Germany

OSA Awards & Distinctions

Joyce Poon Profile

Joyce Poon is a Director of the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Toronto, and an Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Technical University of Berlin.  She and her team specialize in integrated photonics on silicon. 

Poon never expected to be where she is today.  She was born in Hong Kong, grew up in Toronto, and had wished to become a medical doctor. Her plans were derailed during her undergraduate studies in Engineering Science at the University of Toronto after a summer in a laser lab.  She found building a femtosecond laser to be so interesting that she switched into the physics specialization.  A device course and a project on photonic crystals opened her mind to integrated photonics, a field she is still passionate about today.  In photonics, she could see how theory, models, and experiment can come together to create impactful technologies that transform society. 

Poon continued onto graduate studies at the California Institute of Technology, where she was often asked whether she was Prof. Amnon Yariv’s last student (she is not!). There she founded the OSA Student Chapter hoping to bring students together and guest speakers.  She earned her Ph.D. from Caltech in 2007 with a thesis on slow light in coupled-resonator optical waveguides.  Her sojourn at Caltech taught her about being precise in thought and expression, and the importance of integrity.

Poon subsequently returned to the University of Toronto to be a professor.  She is grateful for the tremendous support from the university, the Canadian research environment, and the many colleagues and collaborators for her career.  She built a research program centred on silicon integrated photonics for telecom applications.  With talented students and postdocs, she collaborated with the silicon photonic foundries and companies to demonstrate different types of platforms and device concepts.  Poon was the Canada Research Chair from 2012 to 2018 and has received awards for teaching and research from the university and other organizations. 

A few years ago, Poon miraculously survived the appointment process to serve as a director at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics, a position that she started in 2018 along with German lessons.  At the MPI, she is building a department on “Nanophotonics, Integration and Neural Technology,” with the aim of inventing and developing the next generation of integrated photonic technologies for brain-computer interfaces and future computing. 

She currently serves as an Associate Editor for Optics Express.  She has regularly served on the technical program committees for OFC, CLEO, FiO and various conferences since 2009.  Poon is an OSA Fellow.  She thinks learning German is harder than the probing the brain with light.

Joyce Poon Statement

I hope that all who read this are well and staying healthy. As I write this, the world is in the midst of a near-complete shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. The opposites feel very strange—much has changed, yet the sun still shines; we are isolated, yet the world is united.

Incredibly, only two weeks ago as I write this, my group members and I were preparing to fly to San Diego for the OFC Conference. We changed our plans at the last minute. The courageous decision to continue with an on-site conference must have been very difficult for the OFC organizers. Within the OSA leadership, my first priority would be to understand and influence decision-making processes. As a professional society, what are our responsibilities to our members, the staff, our profession and the general public? Could there have been better ways to mitigate the financial consequences?

The impressively rapid deployment of online conferencing at OFC and other subsequent meetings showed the resourcefulness and commitment of the leadership of OSA. The online experiment points to a future that may be suitable for many OSA meetings. The financial costs and environmental footprint of holding meetings could be reduced. Conferences could be much more flexible and ad hoc, accommodating a wider variety of topics. The content would be more broadly accessible, which is an opportunity to expand the membership and grow OSA. The online format also makes it easier for participants to balance their professional and personal commitments.  On the other hand, the revenue streams for OSA would change. My second priority in an OSA leadership role would be to make online community-building and conferencing more common. This is necessary for the long-term sustainability of OSA and for the ecological sustainability of the world at large.

The pandemic has prompted me to reflect on other changes that may be ahead. I see photonics and optics as crucial in the technology portfolio of the future world. Increased automation in services, manufacturing and transportation will require improved sensors, communication and computation. The next generation of remote interaction will benefit from 3D cameras and projectors and from AR/VR systems. Point-of-care diagnostics and therapies will need miniature sensing, spectrometry, and imaging systems. The backbone for shuttling the data around the planet will be a vast ultrahigh-capacity fiber optic infrastructure. The security of our information and expanded computing capabilities will require fundamental breakthroughs in quantum science.

These are just a few areas in which OSA members will contribute—but success in these endeavors will require expertise from many disciplines. My third priority is to ensure that OSA helps its members engage in emerging areas and build bridges with experts from other domains. Being publicly visible and relevant in impactful technologies will also be necessary to attract young people to our discipline.

In sum, constant change is inevitable, and global crises can accelerate the pace of change. All of us and OSA will have to adapt. Change is never easy—but it also opens exciting opportunities for us to serve our world and communities.

I wish you continued strength in your work, and good health to you and your loved ones.