Tech-set networks in the niche fields at Photonics

When Janet Langford Grey, program chair for the Reno Tahoe chapter of Photonics, schedules guest speakers for monthly meetings of its highly educated membership, she sometimes must ask them to dumb it down.

Because even this tech-savvy group might find it a stretch to grasp the finer points of speakers such as

Rajan Bista, who is pursuing a doctorate in physics from University of Nevada, Reno.

His areas of expertise?

Vibrational spectroscopic near-infrared, Fourier transform infrared and Raman study of biological samples including lipids and liposomes. Physiochemical properties of newly developed synthetic PEGylated lipids and nanovesicles. And scanning electron microscopy, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy.

Come again?

Photonics is an umbrella term for optics technologies. Non-geeks use photonics daily when scanning bar codes, wearing prescription eyeglasses, getting X-rays, playing DVDs or plugging in a computer thumb drive.

But non-technical folks don't necessarily want to discuss the underpinnings of those nifty gadgets.

Photonics members do.

The group provides a venue for education and technology exchange. At meetings, members can talk with others working in various industries of the broad field.

"Sometimes if you just have a different set of eyes you may come up with a different solution," says Gray.

Members also give back to the community, providing suitcase-sized optics labs to area high schools. And this year, members will serve as judges at the upcoming Science Fair 2009, a gathering of science-minded high school students in Reno.

Photonics membership numbers 30, counting both individuals and companies. Dues are $15 individual or $250 for a company, which covers all its employees.

The group meets monthly at a south Reno pizza restaurant to network and learn from a speaker.

Membership is open to any technical business within a 100-mile radius and serves those in engineering disciplines, tech sales and marketing, quality assurance or production management in technical fields. Information is online at

"Being a member makes me feel like I'm back in Silicon Valley," says Gray, who markets technical products. And while she enjoys the spacious aspects of northern Nevada living, Gray sometimes yearns for the buzz of Silicon Valley.

Empty nester tech veterans will move to this area to enjoy its quality of life on the scenic front. But it's tough to attract those young, highly educated tech types who have families, she adds, because, "Schools here scare people off from moving here."

And among the venture capitalist crowd, she says, "They think of all Nevadans as trailer trash."

Member Ron Wilder, owner of eTechDesign Associates, says, "We help people invent things. One idea contained embedded electronics, so I was seeking information on developing optical systems. It helped. I met some people who understood this well. Being technical in a non-technical area, you need to network."

And member Ron Engelbrechct, owner of AM Power Systems says, "If we need certain expertise, by golly there's someone in the group who has that. The diverse backgrounds are intellectually stimulating. I get ideas for new directions. But new customers are the last thing you should look for in such a group."


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