Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Seen on CNN by way of Popular Science:  a crime-fighting armored glove equipped with taser, video camera, laser pointer and flashlight. Of course, when I first caught the mention of this glove on the news network, my first thought was about the laser pointer and basic eye safety.

Much has already been written about the potential eyesight hazards from laser pointers — a simple Google search on “laser pointer eye safety” yielded about 312,000 hits. The green laser pointers tend to pose a greater hazard than the red pointers because our eyes are much more sensitive to that 532-nm green light than to red wavelengths. The video clip on CNN definitely showed a green laser beam aimed at the “suspect’s” chest.

You can certainly debate whether this armored glove would be of any use to a SWAT-team member or a regular cop — in fact, there’s already plenty of debate on the Popsci.com page referenced earlier. I would certainly urge the product developers to consider whether the laser is needed at all (tasers don’t need pinpoint accuracy, do they?), and if it is truly necessary, to make sure that all glove wearers undergo proper training with the laser. Green lasers can damage eyesight permanently! And if law-enforcement officers don’t have a lot of sympathy for violent perps, they should at least show concern for innocent bystanders caught up in the crowd situation.

Now, speaking of the video camera included in the glove … no way could such a gizmo fit inside a glove if the team of Willard Boyle and George Smith hadn’t dreamed up the charge-coupled device more than four decades ago. Those little CCD chips changed video cameras from those giant hulking behemoths seen in old footage of NASA launches and political conventions to compact, portable recorders that can go anywhere from the middle of huge protest rallies to the depths of the ocean and the heights of Earth orbit. Oh, yeah, not to mention detectors that take long-exposure astronomical images in a fraction of the time required by photographic plates … and today’s ubiquitous digital cameras.

Boyle died last month at the age of 86, and his death was noticed by the U.S. press as well as in his native Canada. Intriguingly, his obituary in the New York Times was headlined “Father of Digital Eye,” but the first version of the article mentioned  that Boyle developed “a ruby laser,” which left me scratching my head — so then what was that big celebration of Ted Maiman’s work all about, then? Fortunately, the Times corrected the obit to match what the Washington Post got right to start with: Boyle worked on the first continuously operating ruby laser. Maiman’s invention was a pulsed laser, and everyone working in optics knows the difference between pulsed and CW lasers.

Speaking of Nobel laureates and the New York Times, I did a double-take when I saw the obituary headline describing Rosalyn Yalow as a “Nobel Physicist.” Because every female who studies physics knows that there have been only two women so far who have won a Nobel in physics: Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert-Mayer. But, see, I didn’t know until I read her obituary that her academic training actually WAS in physics. Let this be a reminder that physics really is the most fundamental of all the sciences. (And Yalow wasn’t the only physicist to win a Nobel in medicine; for example, Allan Cormack and Godfrey Hounsfield won for developing computer-assisted tomography, or the CT scan, and Haldan Hartline and George Wald won for unlocking the secrets of the visual processes in the human eye — optics!)

News from OPN

The June issue of Optics & Photonics News is now online, so my May feature on Arthur Schawlow has gone behind the OSA members’ firewall. The new open-access feature is on cell identification with 3-D computational holographic micrography. (Try saying that fast three times!) Plus, I’ve got an OPN Newsroom article on a new technique for sending lots more data down a single-mode fiber.

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