The Egypt National Science Week is a nationwide celebration to promote science and technology throughout the country, comprising numerous lectures, panel discussions, science demonstrations, robot competitions, cultural events and more, held at universities in major cities all over Egypt. More than 12,000 people, mostly students, registered to participate and over 1500 attended the opening events on March 12 at the Week’s hub, the American University in Cairo.
Former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf—who served in 2011 shortly after the Arab Spring, co-founded the Egypt Scientific Society, and has advocated vigorously for Egyptian science education—opened the Week with a lecture (in Arabic) on the vital role of science and technology to Egypt’s future and the steps the government, academia and industry are taking to expand opportunities. He encouraged the attendees to study diligently and pursue careers in science and technology, both for their personal fulfillment as well as the benefit of their country.
Rambus Fellow David G. Stork was invited to National Science Week to present his insights on the culture of science and technology in America—and specifically Silicon Valley—gleaned from his career in research that has straddled both academia and industry. He spoke in a panel discussion about the Valley’s culture of sophisticated risk-taking that inevitably leads to failures as well as successes, and its ecosystem of world-class universities, venture capital firms, and companies (both startup and established). He described the Valley’s unique ethos focusing on technological and even cultural disruption, its culture of fluid employment, open internationalism, and widespread optimism that has proven so hard to replicate elsewhere, despite many attempts.
After the panel, Stork presented an hour-long lecture on computational sensing and imaging to the standing-room-only hall. In surveying the grand sweep of the development of optical imaging, Stork referred in passing to the great Arab optics expert Ibn Al-Haytham (who died in Cairo in 1040) and stated that optical imaging is now in its fourth major revolution. The first three were: mastering the fabrication of lenses to produce a high-quality optical image (12th century), the invention of silver-halide fixing of images in photography (early 19th century) and the digital imaging revolution (late 20th century).
We are now in the computational imaging revolution (early 21st century) in which optical devices and sophisticated computer algorithms are co-designed to produce the desired digital output, such as an image or some measurement of the visual scene. This paradigm is overthrowing many of the optics rules and design methods that were developed over the last millennium and providing new sensing and imaging functionalities.
“I was astonished at the energy and enthusiasm of the audience—its thirst for all things technological,” said Stork afterward. “Every student used technology invented and developed in Silicon Valley and was eager to meet someone immersed in its culture. In my decades of lecturing, including many popular venues, I have never been so swamped with questions—and audience requests for selfies!”