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Photonics Societies Unite to Announce the National Photonics Initiative

published: 2013-05-24 15:24

 The American Physical Society (APS), IEEE Photonics Society, Laser Institute of America (LIA), the Optical Society (OSA) and SPIE, the International Society of Optics and Photonics, today announced the launch of the National Photonics Initiative NPI), a collaborative alliance seeking to unite industry, academia and government experts to identify and advance areas of photonics critical to maintaining US competitiveness and national security.

“Life without photonics is almost unimaginable. From the moment you wake up to the alarm on your smartphone, to swiping your credit card to pay for coffee, to logging into your computer and connecting with the world through the Internet, photonics makes it possible,” said OSA CEO Elizabeth Rogan. “The NPI will work to advance photonics in the areas that are most critical to the US, like improving the economy, creating jobs, saving lives and sparking innovation for future generations.”

Photonics generates, controls and detects light to advance manufacturing, robotics, medical imaging, next-generation displays, defense technologies, biometric security, image processing, communications, astronomy and much more. Photonics forms the backbone of the Internet, guides energy exploration and keeps men and women in uniform safe with night vision and physiological feedback on the battlefield.

In 1998, the National Research Council released a report, “Harnessing Light,” which presented a comprehensive overview of the potential impact of photonics on major industry sectors. In response, several worldwide economies moved to advance their already strong photonics industries. The United States, however, did not develop a cohesive strategy. As a result, the US lost its competitive advantage in a number of cutting-edge technologies as well as thousands of US jobs and companies to overseas markets.

“The EU, Germany, Korea, Taiwan and China all recognize the importance of photonics, and have taken action,” said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. “The Department of Defense, for example, has long supported photonics, and we have seen the advantage provided to our troops. But now more photonics research is needed to maintain our national security in the face of growing non-traditional threats. The time is now for the US to make the right investments in the crucial capabilities of the future.”

In 2012, the National Research Council released “Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation” that called for a national photonics initiative to regain US leadership in key photonic-driven fields. In response to that call, the NPI was established to raise awareness about photonics and the impact of photonics on our everyday lives; increase collaboration and coordination among US industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields; and drive US funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining US competitiveness and national security.

“The NPI offers an opportunity for us to show how critical it is for federally funded research to flourish in this country,” said Kate Kirby, executive officer of APS. “So many of the technologies that we use every day have come from the results of scientific research in optics and photonics funded by the federal government.”

As part of the NPI effort, more than 100 experts from industry, academia and government collaborated to draft a white paper entitled “Lighting the Path to a Competitive, Secure Future,” detailing recommendations to guide funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields: advanced manufacturing, communications and information technology, defense and national security, health and medicine and energy. New opportunities in these fields such as 3-D printing, more efficient solar power, improved nuclear threat identification, more accurate cancer detection and the growth of Internet speeds and capacity, offer the potential for even greater societal impact in the next few decades.

“There are thousands of companies that have sprung up in the last decade or so that produce the photonics devices and systems that we all depend on now, but there’s plenty of room for growth,” said Richard Linke, executive director of the IEEE Photonics Society.

In order to capitalize on new opportunities and regain global leadership and economic prosperity, the white paper also provides key recommendations to the United States government that apply across all five of the fields:

  • Drive funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining US competitiveness and national security—advanced manufacturing, defense, energy, health and medicine, information technology and communications;
  • Develop federal programs that encourage greater collaboration between US industry and academia to better support the research and development of next-generation photonics technologies;
  • Increase investment in education and job training programs to reduce the shortage of technically skilled workers needed to fill the growing number of photonics-based positions;
  • Expand federal investments supporting university and industry collaborative research to develop new manufacturing methods that incorporate photonics, such as additive manufacturing and ultra-short-pulse laser material processing; and
  • Collaborate with US industry to review international trade practices impeding free trade, and the current US criteria restricting the sale of certain photonic technologies overseas.

The NPI maintains that fulfillment of these recommendations will position the United States as a global leader in photonics research and development, and will grow the US economy and add jobs at home.

“Our objective is to direct funding intelligently to research, implementation, education and training, with the ultimate goal of restoring US competitiveness, thereby improving our security, our economy and our quality of life,” said LIA Executive Director Peter Baker.  

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