The film Back to the Future Part 2, released in 1989, was a story in which the hero, who was living in the America of 1985, was transported 30 years into the future, to the year 2015. Stanley Kubrick's epoch-making 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey also depicted the world in around 30 years' time. Among film makers and science fiction writers, 30 years seems to be the ideal time span for depicting the progress of science and technology. Last year, television and magazine features compared the goods and technologies shown in Back to the Future with the actual technologies we now have at our disposal. The DeLorean automobile and time machine that is fueled by garbage has yet to appear in our daily lives, but photos and film footage of a DeLorean that actually was developed by a recycling company and a DVD production company, and runs on bioethanol made from old clothes, caused a stir. I was given the post of an assistant professor in the School of Engineering at Osaka University in 1986, and by a strange coincidence I reached my own thirtieth year of activities as part of the University teaching staff this year.
When I compare the science and technology in the year I became an assistant professor with what we have nowadays, even allowing for the fact that these things have not suddenly appeared overnight, thus cushioning the shock, there is plenty that would have amazed me in 1986, such as smartphones, hybrid cars, the Internet and so on. Technologies centering on light have made extraordinary progress over the past three decades, and there are all sorts of products that were not available 30 years ago, including fiber optic cables, LCD televisions, digital videos and cameras, blue lasers, blue light-emitting diodes and many others. “The 21st century will be the century of light” was a catchword coined as far back as the 1970s, and the avenues of light were already opening up when I became an assistant professor in the 1980s. Involved in research using light, as an assistant professor I was an unswerving advocate of this catchword and used it frequently in application forms for budgets. However, with regard to feasibility at the time the idea of light was still a vague notion, and the fact that we are now surrounded in our daily lives by the devices I have listed above gives me a true sense that we live in a world where that catchphrase of the 1970s has become a reality. Fiber optic cables, CCDs and other light devices located where the naked eye cannot see are entities that are understood by those in the know, and without people such as these then I do not think the “century of light” I mentioned above would have come into existence in the way it has done today.
So, what do the next 30 years hold in store for us? Will the “century of light” become a more tangible, more visible concept? I do not know whether I will still be on the face of this Earth in 30 years' time, but I do know that I fully intend watching it evolve even further with my own two eyes.
February 15th, 2016
Prof. Susumu Kuwabata
Division of Applied Chemistry,
Graduate School of Engineering,
桑畑 進 教授
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