Hugo Thienpont wins prestigious SPIE Gold Medal Award

Hugo Thienpont wins prestigious SPIE Gold Medal Award

VUB vice-rector is a pioneer in photonics research and implementation

VUB professor Hugo Thienpont, vice-rector for innovation and valorisation policy and research director of the VUB research group B-PHOT Brussels Photonics, has won the SPIE Gold Medal 2021. The award from the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE) is one of the highest recognitions in the field of photonics. It recognises his pioneering vision of photonics and the impact his research and its implementation have on our society. “This recognition of the Gold Medal is an immense honour,” said Professor Thienpont. “The news took me completely by surprise. I particularly appreciate this award because it is above all a spontaneous and sincere recognition from colleagues worldwide.

The disruptive tools Thienpont has developed and implemented over the past decades have had a visible impact on education, research, innovation and well-being in Flanders, Europe and far beyond,” SPIE says on its website. “He was one of the first researchers in Europe to see the potential impact of photonics as a new research and engineering discipline, but also as a key enabling technology.” Each year, SPIE presents awards to outstanding scientists in optics and photonics, including Nobel laureates, whose research in light and lighting technology has improved society in a sustainable way. The Gold Medal and accompanying $10,000 cash prize will be awarded next summer at the SPIE Optics & Photonics conference in the US.

Photonics – the science and technology of light – is a digital technology that has revolutionised traditional industries. Photonic technologies are used in a wide variety of application areas. These include optical fibres that provide ultra-fast online communication, optical sensors that monitor the quality of food, air and drinking water, solar cells that create green energy, lasers that enable 3-D printing of metals, endoscopes for minimally invasive keyhole surgery, laser scanners for self-driving cars, and optical sensors for robots. “Photonics is the key technology for the digitisation of our society and a major driver for advanced manufacturing. Photonics can be counted among the deep green energy technologies that have become crucial to fundamentally addressing the enormous global societal and environmental challenges of our time,” said Thienpont.

Some of the applications of Thienpont’s research can be found today in various industries: augmented and virtual reality glasses, microscopes, medical endoscopes, space telescopes and microsatellites. Thienpont is also the founder of the VUB research group B-PHOT Brussels Photonics. He launched an engineering curriculum on photonics and was a founder of Photonics4Life, SPIE Photonics Europe, Photonics21, PhotonHub Europe and the pan-European Network of Excellence on Micro-Optics (NEMO). He is also a co-founder of UNESCO’s International Year of Light (IYL) and the International Day of Light (IDL).

“Professor Thienpont is one of the world’s leading scientists,” Professor John Dudley of the Université Bourgogne-Franche Comté told SPIE. He worked with Thienpont on the IYL and IDL programmes. “For more than 30 years, he has been a leader on the international stage. He has developed ground-breaking infrastructures and collaborations, he supports the creation of new companies and start-ups and works on science communication aimed at citizens and politicians. Thienpont’s all-encompassing dedication has created a coordinated photonics community in Europe, while his research always puts the interests of society first. The establishment of his own research institute at the VUB demonstrates this.


Hugo Thienpont

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