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SPIE Leaders Seek Support for a National Photonics Initiative

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA (PRWEB) December 27, 2012

A National Photonics Initiative (NPI) will foster increased collaboration and coordination between industry, government, and academia to identify and advance areas of photonics that are critical for maintaining U.S. competitiveness and national security, SPIE representatives are telling industry and research groups around the country.

The NPI is a key recommendation in the report “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation” released in August by the National Academies. Speakers from SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, are part of an ad hoc intersociety committee which has been working for the establishment of the NPI since the report was released.

Their talks illustrate how the NPI would help strengthen the economy, create jobs, protect U.S. competitiveness in the global market, and enable new solutions for challenges in healthcare, sustainable energy, manufacturing, defense and community security, and communications.

“We carefully chose the title for this report: optics and photonics really are essential technologies,” said Paul McManamon, SPIE Past President and Technology Director of the Laser and Optical Communication Institute at the University of Dayton. McManamon and SPIE Fellow Alan Willner (University of Southern California) co-chaired the National Research Council (NRC) committee who researched and authored the report.

“Photonics is a critical enabler for our high-tech economy. The Internet, MRIs and CAT scans, and space mission spin-offs such as optical blood diagnostic instruments and infrared cameras that indicate hot spots in a fire are just a few examples of photonics-enabled applications,” McManamon said. “If the U.S. wants to retain high-tech leadership and jobs, we need the National Photonics Initiative.”

“Technology fuels our economy, lifestyle, and national security. The advantage the U.S. has held is at risk due to competition from other countries that are investing more in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) R&D and workforce education,” said SPIE Vice President Philip Stahl in a presentation at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “The high-tech economy is a three-legged stool, with the federal government, colleges and universities, and the private sector each playing a vital role. The NPI would take a strategic approach to ensuring return on investment, both financially and in new applications, and to maintaining competitiveness in the global economy.”

Photonics is responsible for more than 1.8 million jobs around the world, SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs said in a briefing at the National Science Foundation (NSF) last month.

Arthurs noted that several regions ? influenced in part by a 1998 NRC study on optical science and engineering study called “Harnessing Light” ? have successfully scoped their own photonics capabilities, set goals, and implemented plans to realize new potential.

He pointed to Asia, where the world’s largest share of photonics manufacturing is done, and to the European Union, which has recognized photonics one of six key enabling technologies for future prosperity. Funding for photonics in the current EU cycle has ramped up to 100 million euro per year, and that amount is expected to increase more than 50% in the next cycle.

International interest in the new “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies” report is also high, Stahl said. Researchers he met on a trip to India earlier this month had read the report and brought it up for discussion.

Among key findings of the “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies” report:

  • Many important early U.S. innovations in photonics relied on R&D performed in large industrial laboratories and benefited as well from defense-related R&D and procurement spending.
  • A National Photonics Initiative would identify critical technical priorities for long-term federal R&D funding, and offer a basis for coordinating federal spending across agencies.
  • A National Photonics Initiative could provide matching funds for industry-led research consortia (users, producers, and material and equipment suppliers) focused on specific applications such as photonics integrated circuits for next-generation computing, and advanced 3D manufacturing.
  • Education plays a critically important role in ensuring a vibrant future in the fields of optics and photonics.

Other societies joining with SPIE in the ad hoc committee are the OSA (Optical Society), IEEE Photonics Society, American Physical Society, and the Laser Institute of America. OSA, SPIE, and the IEEE Photonics Society have also committed funds to support committee efforts.

The report was supported by funding from DARPA (Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency), NSF, NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), Army Research Office, Department of Energy, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, NRC, OSA, and SPIE.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 225,000 constituents from approximately 150 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional growth, and patent precedent. SPIE provided over $2.7 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2011.

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