The role of optics in sensing is obviously expanding; witness the large number of papers presented at the Annual Meeting of the Optical Society of America held in October 1998. From sensing inside the human body to sensing in outer space, every Technical Group within OSA had papers that highlighted some of the new technologies being employed in sensors and some of the applications for sensing. A look at a few of the titles of some of the symposia serves to illustrate the breadth of sensing within the optics community: Optical Sensors for Combustion Diagnostics, Polymer and Molecular Systems for Optical Sensing, Multidiscriminant/Multispectral/Polarization Imaging, Novel Imaging Techniques in Biomedicine, Nonlinear and Novel Imaging Techniques. The papers in the sessions ranged from discussions of basic physics to presentations of highly engineered applications. I see this as one of the very useful roles that conferences can serve - the interchange of information between those who emphasize component development and those who develop system requirements.

This focus issue is a continuation to the Annual Meeting. It presents some of the latest sensing technologies and sensing applications that employ optics. The intent of this issue is somewhat different than other focus issues in that the intent is to show the breadth of sensing applications rather than to explore one sensing technology in depth. In the process a few of the newer sensing technologies and modalities are showcased. Each of the authors was selected to help convey the breadth of sensing applications.

The issue starts with papers on component technologies including the use of thin films and liquid crystal devices as sensors. A novel concept to perform a difficult sensing function, measurements on molecular monolayers, is covered next. The issue concludes with more systems-related papers on how imaging sensors can be made more invariant by the inclusion of special optical components and processing as part of the “system” and on how sensing systems can be made more robust through the sensing of multiple discriminants.

A focus issue that attempts to capture all of the on-going work in a field as broad as “sensing” of course will fail to include every aspect of the topic. It is hoped, however, that this issue will serve to convey some of the excitement of current activities in sensing and to encourage further discussions and interactions between those with novel sensing technologies and those with sensing requirements. Enjoy!

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