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Optical Conclusions: SPIE's Meetings Manager

Ed Lake Head Shots July2015 5 1 CopyHaving worked at the International Society for Optics and Photonics since 1989, “I guess you could say I like it,” says Ed Lake, meetings manager for SPIE. Based in northwest Washington, Lake orchestrates conferences and exhibitions for everything from optical system design to advanced lithography to sensing technologies for the organization’s more than 18,000 members. We discover what it’s like to plan meetings for such a high-tech, innovative industry.

Why are most of your conferences held on the West Coast?

The technology industries and demographics are concentrated out here. Photonics West 2016 [will take] up the entire North and South Hall of the Moscone Center in San Francisco. But we do have different experiences on the East Coast too. ICOAM [International Conference on Optical Angular Momentum] is in New York for scientists working on optical angular momentum, and Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation will be in Edinburgh, Scotland, next year.

Your attendees are in highly visual fields. Do they have tough standards for audiovisual?

They complain when the projector isn’t bright enough or doesn’t have enough pixelation—we use HD a lot because of that. The Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation meeting involves light that attendees are trying to see way off in the distance, and we have to be set up to show it well.

Do you plan opening parties and off-site events as well?

We’re a not-for-profit and operated for many years on a shoestring budget, so whatever we can do to save money is well-received. But, yes, we have some functions that are more fun. For the summer meeting on optic technologies, we’re having The 3 Painters as entertainment, and they’ll do a live-painting scene using black lights. We also hold welcome receptions and have incorporated robots into the meetings. Someone once hacked into the controller and gained control of the robots… That’s another story. The hackers had the robots dancing and entertaining about 2,000 people.

I guess that’s what happens when you have techie members! Do you incorporate creative themes into SPIE events?

Last year we had a Mardi Gras theme and had characters backlit against the screen. It’s another form of live entertainment. But primarily our attendees are focused on meeting other attendees.

Any creative networking opportunities you’ve planned?

Our attendees often end up in the Wi-Fi lounge. You give them a spot to hang out and network, and they get on their devices. We should come up with a way for them to network on social media in there.

Why is 2015 the International Year of Light for SPIE?

We’re in partnership with the United Nations program to celebrate light and light-based technologies. During one conference, we had a wow display on one wall. Attendees came down the escalators and saw different luminaries throughout history. SPIE is one of the big sponsors of The Optical Society, and we’re working with them to make these really cool coffee table-style books about inventions created with light.

Have you ever done a laser show to close an event?

The hard thing with lasers is we’ve kind of done it all. And you need smoke to show off what you can do so the audience can see the effects. Fire marshals can make that a challenge!