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SPIE leaders, community speak out to support photonics R&D

Comment period provides opportunity for advocacy of new photonics manufacturing capability

24 July 2014

National Photonics Initiative
The National Photonics Initiative is
helping to raise awareness of the
importance of light-based
technologies
.

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- A request for information on possible new manufacturing institutes focused on light-based technologies has offered a valuable opportunity for the community to speak out on how the development of new photonics-based applications benefit the economy and society, say leaders of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

A comment period closed last week for a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Request for Information (RFI) to gather input to use in scoping focus areas for future Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMI).

"We have received very positive comments in recent meetings in Washington, D.C., on the response from the photonics community. Individuals' comments are very powerful, and taken together become an even stronger voice of advocacy for photonics," said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. "We are pleased that the National Photonics Initiative (NPI) once again has been able to help focus and amplify the efforts of individuals from all segments of the industry."

The NPI, a collaborative alliance seeking to raise awareness of photonics and drive U.S. funding and investment in key photonics-driven fields, was launched in the wake of shrinking federal budgets for research, and on the recommendation of a 2012 National Academies' report on optics and photonics. SPIE and The Optical Society (OSA) are Founding Sponsors, and the American Physical Society (APS), the IEEE Photonics Society, and the Laser Institute of America (LIA) are Sponsors of the coalition.

Arthurs noted that the NPI's advocacy efforts in the U.S. resemble similar initiatives in other regions of the world that have been highly successful in promoting optics and photonics and resulting in important funding opportunities.

In the European Union, efforts by Photonics21, which represents industry and research groups and not-for-profit societies including SPIE, have helped secure photonics a place among six Key Enabling Technologies that receive priority funding for R&D. Previously, photonics had been one of 37 Technology Platforms, with less favored funding.

China, Japan, Germany, Singapore, and Belgium are among countries that have invested heavily in national photonics technology institutes, centers of excellence, and similar initiatives, and gained leadership positions in targeted markets as a result.

In Taiwan, R&D strategy has helped create annual export levels in photonics of around US$80billion, more than US$3,500 per resident.

A photonics IMI would ensure defense technology leadership for the future while generating and securing jobs and innovation to drive economic growth, SPIE leaders said.

"To maintain a competitive edge requires a healthy symbiosis of science and technology with manufacturing," Arthurs said. "This is vital to sustenance and progress for both. Knowledge diffusion, from research to manufacturing and from manufacturing to research, is crucial for ongoing innovation that results in tangible economic or social outcomes."

"Photonics is an enabling technology used in communications, computing, healthcare, transportation, energy, and entertainment, and plays a vital part in our security and defense capabilities" said SPIE Vice President Robert Lieberman, who serves on the NPI steering committee. "For example, optical sensors, from UV through IR to terahertz, have myriad uses in the ongoing quest for the security of our communities. Sensors have multiple uses in everyday life, such as diagnosing disease, ensuring food safety, monitoring health, and ensuring safety on our streets and highways."

Economic benefits of innovation fund more than 70% of R&D in the United States, he said, but "without the economic benefits from manufacturing, this funding withers."

More than 300 people signed up for a webinar organized by the NPI about how to respond to the RFI, and SPIE submitted a letter emphasizing the economic impact of photonics.

In advance of the RFI, SPIE and other NPI partners presented white papers on a national photonics prototyping and advanced manufacturing facility to the Office of Science and Technology Policy and DoD officials. The NPI has also been active in promoting biophotonics, environmental sensors, and high-power laser technologies among federal policy makers in Washington, D.C.

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 256,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided more than $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2013.

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