Q&A With Marilyn Gorsuch, Photonics West Event Manager

By Ed Biller, Editor, Photonics Online

Marilyn Gorsuch
Marilyn Gorsuch

With Photonics West having evolved into the optics and photonics industry’s main event over the past 25 years, it can be easy to overlook the superb undercard. Namely, the BiOS Expo – slated to take place this year at San Francisco's Moscone Center Feb. 2-3 – which boasts more than 200 exhibitors of its own, plus more than 2,500 papers and presentations.

Per SPIE, topics in 2019 will include “biomedical optics, diagnostics and therapeutics, biophotonics, new imaging modalities, optical coherence tomography, neurophotonics, optogenetics, tissue optics, and nano/biophotonics.”

Marilyn Gorsuch, Photonics West Event Manager, took time from her hectic schedule in the run-up to the show to discuss with Photonics Online what attendees can expect at BiOS this year, and to provide insight into the planning of our industry’s busiest week.

What is new, improved, or just plain exciting at BiOS this year?

We are beginning to see more content focusing on AI, machine learning, and big data as technology tools that help researchers and companies do their work more efficiently and reliably. We also have incorporated AR, VR, MR into the industry program for the second year, and this has been incredibly well received, with all of the top companies in this consumer field participating.

Are you able to characterize the breakdown between “pure medtech” guests at BiOS and those working purely in the technical or service realms, but serving medtech (be it component designers or firms that clean/sterilize reusable devices)? As a follow-on, do you have an “ideal” BiOS attendee, or are you angling to improve the show’s relevance/content for any of these audiences, specifically?

What we see increasingly is the entrepreneurial efforts of our researchers and scientists, who are partnering with companies to bring more optics and photonics to the clinic.  We sometimes hear the words “bench to bedside,” and many BiOS participants have this mindset, from the university labs working with companies to develop the products the companies need, to those who are inventing new applications independently and seeking funding to launch innovative products and services. 

In my view, the ideal BiOS attendee has the perspective that what she/he is working on today has the potential to be commercialized at some point. The link between researcher/scientist and industry is stronger than ever and on display at Photonics West.

One of the greatest boons offered to medtech by improved/shrinking optics and more powerful/precise/controllable laser technology is in the realm of minimally and non-invasive procedures. What companies/technologies stand out at the 2019 show in this respect?

Photoacoustic imaging, ultrasound with LED-based systems, and multimodal imaging are examples of highly valued technologies/conferences in BiOS.  They consistently draw a large audience and a high number of abstracts. Photodynamic and photothermal therapies also are areas that continue to grow and become more advanced. 

OCT, the almost ubiquitous technology that has greatly influenced all biomedical advancements, continues to aid minimally invasive diagnostics and therapeutics. Imaging systems of all kinds can be found in the presentations and in the exhibition at Photonics West.

Similarly, advances in imaging and sensing have taken diagnostics, therapies for chronic disease, and even pain management down new paths. What’s in store for BiOS attendees on this front?

Pain management is an area that has great promise.  We are seeing papers in the BiOS program in 2019 that are using technology to mitigate pain, but we believe this is still a fledgling area and one that we will continue to focus on for the future. Any progress using light for pain management will be an enormous boon for society in general.  I have faith that our constituents will be key to finding solutions.

Obviously, being presented by SPIE is a differentiator, but what else separates BiOS from the numerous medtech conferences around the globe? What can attendees find here every year that they can’t find elsewhere?

BiOS, first and foremost, focuses on optical and photonics technologies that can literally light the way to future and more promising and successful healthcare.  We are not a chemical society, we are not the dermatology society — we are the light-based optics and photonics society. This focused technology approach has fueled the growth of BiOS over the years. The applications of photonics for the medical field hold great promise — and we assemble the right folks at BiOS who can make important advancements happen.

What technological trends have you seen manifest at BiOS this year (i.e., is there increased interest in diagnostics, steadily increasing interest in biocompatible materials, demand for regulatory guidance, etc.)?

BiOS has always been about optics and photonics for imaging, diagnostics, and therapeutics.   Biocompatible materials are certainly included (2D, for example), but we have not seen a large contingent presenting on biomaterials to date.  We expect that this field will continue to grow, however, and the use and focus on nanotechnology will help fuel innovations in both diagnostics and biomaterials. Fortunately for the field, BiOS has a Nano/Biophotonics program track that can help guide the way to future developments.

Is there any other information relevant to BiOS that you wish to share with attendees?

I continue to be impressed with the amazing work that is done by our constituents — one cannot help but be in awe of their accomplishments. We already see how technology influences our healthcare providers, and the technology adoption in the clinic will continue to gain acceptance in the future to our collective benefit. Costs to implement and change the current protocols have their issues, but I believe in the creativeness of our researchers and engineers who can ease these transitions to a better and more efficient healthcare future.

Looking at Photonics West as a whole, do you have a formula that guides show-planning decisions, such as what remains from the prior year, what new events or activities are introduced, and what is removed or scaled down to accommodate those changes? How is this process approached (i.e., what metrics and feedback inform those decisions)?

We are definitely data driven and will correct or restructure our approach immediately if something is not working. We pay attention to the room counts (how many people attend each conference and/or event), and we rely on feedback from our surveys. We are in continuous improvement mode and always strive to make the next meeting better than the previous. 

Fortunately for SPIE, Photonics West has enjoyed an amazing reputation as a must-attend event.  Our job is to keep it there at top of mind for our constituents, to make sure we provide value and meet their needs. Creating a positive event experience is one of our primary goals!

What are some of the benefits/challenges of holding Photonics West at San Francisco’s Moscone Center each year? Why doesn’t the event explore other venues?

We have found that San Francisco, and now the newly renovated Moscone Center, has allowed Photonics West to grow over the years because of the size and configuration of the venue itself, and because of its proximity to multiple universities and Silicon Valley. The location is great for the walk-in traffic that we need for the exhibition, for example. There are not many locations in the US that can assure we will have enough technical, business, and photonics manufacturers who need the products that the exhibition is selling, to make companies happy with the traffic they receive. This would not happen in Las Vegas (no offense to the city!). 

We must be where technical folks live and work; we must have entrepreneurial companies locally to help build the exhibition and provide the innovative products our constituents need. It’s a crucial ecosystem that has consistently fed the exhibition, as well as the technical program. And it certainly is cost-effective to tweak an event in a familiar space, rather than start over in another venue and location.

How many people does it take to make Photonics West run smoothly (including everyone from the staff and volunteers to dealing with media and vendor issues)? How does this compare to, say, five or ten years ago?

We have a fairly large staff and there are very few who are not involved in some way to ensure that Photonics West is successful. We pride ourselves on our project management and our commitment to excellence. The level of engagement really hasn’t changed greatly — it takes all of us to manage a meeting of this size — and the meeting has had over 15,000 attendees for a number of years. In 2018, we had 23,000 attendees.

Plus, the meeting itself has become the official meeting place for many of our constituents and volunteer committees. It’s the place to be! Europeans have joked that they come to Photonics West to meet with their colleagues from Europe; companies hold their strategy meetings at Photonics West. It’s a great place to bring everyone together to network once a year.

Finally, a bit off-track: what are some of your favorite eateries or activities while in San Francisco for Photonics West? 

I’m afraid that I don’t have an interesting answer for you.  My days start early and end late and almost every day I am having breakfast, lunch, and dinner with our wonderful volunteer leadership! Having said that, there are so many wonderful restaurants in San Francisco.  My advice is to go out and explore them and enjoy!