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OSA | Living History

The first visit to China by OSA's Leadership 1988

See Leang Chin

The picture was taken in front of the building for Foreign Specialists in the campus of Nankai University. First row, left to right: Guoguang Mu, See Leang CHIN (the author), Jarus Quinn, Taheng Wang, W. B. Bridges. Second row left to right: ?, Barbara Hicks, Yanxin Zhang and Mrs. Bridges.  

OSA went international: Celebrating OSA’s 100-year anniversary
 
S. L. Chin
Center for Optics, Photonics and Laser (COPL)
Laval University
Quebec City, Canada
2016 March 03
 
This is a personal account of the author’s experience with the international activities committee since its creation in 1986.
 
A new committee
 
I was the first chair of the International Activities Committee created by the late OSA president, Dr. Jean Bennett. That was in 1986 and 1987. The purpose of creating the committee was to encourage the cooperation and collaboration between OSA and other national organizations of optical scientists and engineers and with international scientific and engineering organizations. We had to propose to the Board of OSA as to what actions OSA should take in the international scene.
 
The other members of the committee were mostly from abroad. They were Florin Abeles from France, Ming-Wen Chang from Taiwan, Karl H. Guenther & Klaus D. Mielenz from the US, Koreo Kinosita from Japan, Guo-guang Mu from China, Leif G. Stensland from Sweden and A. Lohmann and Hans J Tiziani from Germany. All of them were the optics leaders in their own territories. 
 
This was a brand new committee and we did not know exactly what to focus upon in terms of international activities. We realized that the international membership of OSA was already rather large, representing about 20% (about 2,000 members) of the total membership. Prof. A. Lohmann of Germany (a member of the committee) mentioned to me that OSA benefited from many immigrants who were the cream of foreign countries. This would mean that OSA was already an international learned society. However, the committee understood that they need to do more. Consequently, the members worked very hard together to come up with some recommendations for the Board to consider and to take actions.
 
Because of the wide geographical spread of the members in the committee, having a full committee meeting with most of the members (if not all) present at any one location was very difficult. However, we did have partial committee meetings at various OSA meetings regularly with only a few of the members present. Most of the communications among the members were done by writing letters (no email yet) and face-to-face discussion with me (see later). I also personally consulted with many OSA’s leading member scientists in the US and in Canada on their opinion about the international activities of OSA.
 
Western Europe
 
Right from the beginning, Prof. A. Lohmann suggested that I went to an optics related meeting in Western Europe and to have a partial committee meeting with the European members of our committee. They would introduce me to many other scientists. Through such actions, we could directly find out how OSA could cooperate and collaborate with the international scientists as well as the organizations to which they belonged. Thus, during my tenure as the chair of the committee, I went to Western Europe once in 1986 and in 1987, to China, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan to meet with some of the committee members, and through them, meet with many local optical scientists. I let the host scientists know that OSA wanted to become their equal partner and OSA would like to ‘keep in touch’ with them. ‘Keep in touch’ was the slogan of the committee and eventually accepted by the Board of OSA. Wherever I went, I was well accepted by all the scientists I met.
 
In the 1980’s, optics was already recognized as being one of the most important disciplines in science, engineering and technology. SPIE had been very active in running conferences in optical engineering and applied optics for many years. In the first half of the 1980’s, SPIE initiated a number of conferences in Western Europe. This had stirred up some controversies among many European scientists and engineers. The engineers and applied scientists seemed to welcome SPIE while the academic world seemed to have an opposite opinion. I personally experienced such feelings from the scientists I met at the Optics’ 86 meeting in Scheveningen, the Netherlands on May 21-24, 1986. I went to that meeting through the recommendation of Prof. Lohmann. At that meeting, European optics leaders from almost all Western European countries were present. They tried to find a way to coordinate European optics conferences. They were considering a common front called ‘Europtica’ whose membership would be professional societies of national optical committees from countries in Western Europe. (Cold War still existed.) In principle, Europtica would organize only one big European optics conference per year. There was a consensus among the proponents of Europtica that any official discussion and negotiation for cooperation and collaboration of organizing big meeting with optical societies outside of Western Europe (e.g. OSA, SPIE, IEEE, etc.) should be done through the common front of Europtica.
 
Right from the beginning when I arrived at Scheveningen, I was caught off-guard by the mood of many scientists; there was a negative feeling of the European scientists towards SPIE. Their feeling towards OSA was mixed. Many of them considered OSA as another SPIE from the US who wanted to interfere with or run the European affairs while a small number would back OSA up (whatever this meant). In order to prevent any misunderstanding, I made the following explanation during all discussions.
 
I told them that OSA did not have any intention to initiate or to organize by herself any conference in Western Europe unless invited by an European Society or group to co-sponsor it. There were explicit guidelines at OSA for co-sponsorship and other types of co-operation and collaboration. Meanwhile, I had to invent something on the spot in order to calm them down while telling the truth. I thus stressed that OSA would like to ‘keep in touch’ with her European colleagues and I was there to seek their advice as to how to do it to make it more effective. I also explained that OSA and SPIE were different.
 
Opinions were then exchanged around the phrase ‘keep in touch’. Keeping in touch would mean many things. It could be the sharing of information in journals. It could be sharing news of activities, making personal contacts, knowing who does what in where, etc. Sharing news items and publishing their conference agenda in Optics News were positively endorsed by them. They all agreed that that was the correct first step towards increasing our contact. Some of them, by the end of the discussion, became very enthusiastic about dealing with OSA. Some even thought of inviting OSA to co-sponsor a meeting in the future. Others would like to become a member of OSA. 
 
Even though I went there at an awkward moment when their negative feeling towards SPIE was high, some of them thought that I might have gone there at the right moment as a pacifier. They seemed to have understood the position and attitude of OSA and they liked the three-word slogan ‘keep in touch’. In my report about this trip to the board of OSA and to all the members of the International Activities Committee, I stressed the following. OSA should always keep in mind in taking any action in the international scene so as not to hurt the international partner’s feeling and pride. Every national or international society or group should always be treated as equal partner. The phrase ‘helping you’ should never be used because this would imply that the partner was inferior to OSA.
 
The committee, after reading my report, proposed two urgent actions to the board of OSA. They were accepted. One was to invite the four organizing optical societies of Optics’ 86 at Scheveningen* to share news of their activities with Optics News’ readers by contributing news items etc. to Optics News.  The other was that the president wrote a letter to the four organizing optical societies* of Optics’ 86, endorsing the position and policy of OSA which I had explained to them. This would assure them that OSA intended only to ‘keep in touch’. 
 
*The Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Angewandte Optik, The Netherlands Optische Commissie,  The Optical Group of The Institute of Physics (UK) and The Société Française d’Optique as well as The Division of Optics of the European Physical Society and The Swiss Society for Optics and Electron Microscopy.
 
Part of Asia
 
Between March 31 and April 21, 1987, I travelled to some countries in Asia to meet with some members of the International Activities Committee in China, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. Through them, I met with many local leaders in optics. Over there, the mood of the scientists was different from that in Europe. They were all very enthusiastic about co-operating and /or working with OSA. To all of them, I stressed OSA’s desire to ‘keep in touch’ with all local optical societies, scientists and engineers. I invited them to contribute news of their activities to Optics News. They were looking forward to working with OSA on matters like co-sponsoring local meetings, reducing membership fees, registration fees at OSA sponsored meetings, and publication charges, welcoming travelling lecturers nominated by OSA and cooperation with OSA.
 
Meanwhile, all the other members of the committee had individually promoted OSA’s philosophy of keeping in touch with many international scientists. OSA has followed up with some of the activities initiated by the Committee.
 
One member was the late Prof. Guoguang Mu. He was the Director of the Institute of Modern Optics in Nankai University in the City of Tianjin (about 100 km from Beijing). He was also the president of that university as well as the vice-president of the Chinese Optical Society (COS). I was his guest when I visited China. He organized a meeting with the president of COS, the late Prof. Taheng Wang (considered as the father of modern Chinese optics). Apart from the subjects mentioned in the previous paragraph, we also discussed how COS and OSA could enhance their cooperation by jointly co-sponsoring meetings in China, supporting excellent students from China with scholarships, mutually send international travelling lecturers to tour a few institutions at the host country, etc.  They also mentioned that they would like to invite the leadership of OSA to visit China.
 
Indeed, a year later, in August 1988, under the invitation of COS, a delegation of OSA’s leaders** went to China for the first time. They were welcome by Prof. Mu and Prof. Taheng Wang in Nankai University. They toured the Institute of Modern Optics of Nankai University as well as the Institute of Precision Instrumentation of the neighboring Tianjin University. I was a regular guest of Prof. Mu and happened to be visiting Prof. Mu in Nankai University at the same period of time. The picture was taken by my camera in front of the building for foreign specialists in Nankai University. 
 
** Prof. (and Mrs.) W. B. Bridges, President of OSA, Jarus Quinn, Executive Director of OSA, Barbara Hicks, Director of meetings of OSA.
 
 
USSR
 
Meanwhile, in 1986-1987, the General Physics Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences would like to interact with OSA. They invited me to go to the Novosibirsk of the USSR to participate at a scientific meeting and took that opportunity to discuss the cooperation and collaboration between the two parties. I initially accepted the invitation but later, because of some important but now forgotten reason, I had to abandon the travel at the last minute.
 
Conclusion
 
Apart from recommending to the Board of OSA the use of the slogan ‘keep in touch’ when interacting with foreign organizations and their representatives, the committee had initiated many action items for the Board to consider. One suggestion was that the Optical Society of America might want to consider changing the official name to OSA so as to reflect her image as an international organization and her departure from being a pure national society of the US. Another idea was that OSA should consider moving CLEO to Europe every two to three years. A third one was that OSA sent travelling lecturers regularly to countries where there would be hosts to receive them. OSA would pay for the international travelling expenses while the hosts would pay for local expenses.