BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Optics and photonics technologies are the keys to bolstering and expanding the economy and stimulating new solutions to challenges in energy, healthcare, and other important areas of life, says a study released today by the U.S. National Academies.
SPIE leaders commended the new report, titled "Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for our Nation," as a powerful lens through which to focus progress during what has become known as "the century of the photon."
"The report underscores that optics and photonics are huge contributors to the economy," said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. "The technologies enable applications ranging from the internet and the equipment it is both sent across and received on, to new tests for cancers and treatments for stroke and other brain disorders that transmit data from the body using beams of light. Very large numbers of direct and enabled jobs for the future depend on mastery of optics and photonics."
Because of the role as an enabling technology in multidisciplinary applications with electronics, chemistry, and other fields, the exact economic impact of optics and photonics is hard to measure, the report noted. Conservative estimates start at more than $500 billion in revenues and 1.5 million jobs in the U.S. that are directly related to or enabled by optics and photonics technologies. This includes numerous applications of lasers, computer chips, solar-energy panels, sensors, displays, and other technologies, in manufacturing, medicine, defense and security systems, lighting, bridge and highway structural analysis, and much more.
The report focuses specifically on opportunities in:
- Communications, information processing and data storage
- Defense and national security
- Health and medicine
- Advanced manufacturing
- Advanced photonic measurements and applications
- Strategic materials for optics
Photonics technologies already play an essential role in these areas.
For example, applications in medicine span from laser therapies and minimally invasive surgeries to characterizing the human genome and performing bedside clinical analyses, said Bruce Tromberg, director of the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine, and a member of the SPIE Board of Directors.
"State-of-the art photonics research is driving remarkable advances that will make personalized medicine a practical reality," Tromberg said. "Light-based technologies will help us discover more effective drugs, optimize how individuals respond to medications while minimizing side effects, restore vision and reverse damage to sensitive neural tissues, and provide 'guide stars' that dramatically improve surgical accuracy. These advances will help reduce health care costs by providing better methods for patient management that minimize costly procedures and extended hospital stays."
Tromberg emphasized that the successful commercialization of research requires a strategic focus such as the National Photonics Initiative proposed in the NA report.
"Our continued strategic investment in photonics is essential for maintaining a robust pipeline of new discoveries that fuels both commercialization and clinical translation," he said.
Dennis Matthews, director of the Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, also stressed the economic impact of optics and photonics, along with the importance of new technologies for diagnosis in the field.
"Harnessing light for the life sciences and medicine has grown into a multi-billion-dollar worldwide industry and a strategic thrust of government sponsored research on every continent," Matthews said. "Modern optical techniques now provide microscopes that rival the resolution only thought possible using electrons or x rays a few short years ago, enabling early detection and efficacious treatment of disease from analyzing a drop of blood with field-portable rapid-assay instruments."
Significant potential lies in the area of manufacturing, the "Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies" report notes. It underscores the need to concentrate nationally on commercializing research to create new industry for tomorrow's workforce, enabling advanced manufacturing, and advancing medical breakthroughs.
The committee's two co-chairs, SPIE Fellows Alan Willner of the University of Southern California and Paul McManamon of the University of Dayton and Exciting Technologies, will give a presentation on the report this Wednesday 15 August at SPIE Optics and Photonics in San Diego. Following the presentation, SPIE will post slides along with links to the digital report and a summary at www.opticsandphotonics.org.
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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