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SPIE CEO says 'aggressive' action, coordinated portfolio will revive innovation in photonics

26 March 2009

Sen. Sherrod Brown, SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs, Richard Appelbaum of UCSB

BELLINGHAM, Wash., USA -- "The United States must move aggressively to establish a new innovation infrastructure to become competitive again," SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs said at a hearing on nanotechnology and optoelectronics in Washington, D.C., on 24 March.

Arthurs spoke as a member of a three-person panel before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, on the impact of industrial policy on U.S. companies, workers, and the economy. The commission reports to Congress annually on the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People's Republic of China.

Arthurs urged the commission to recommend that Congress develop "a comprehensive, informed review of the United States' fragmented national photonics technology portfolio," and provide ongoing, active guidance to federal science agencies.

For example, a comprehensive national policy will help ensure that decades of work in the Department of Energy laboratories, particularly the National Renewable Energy Lab, is applied to enabling solar energy manufacturing in America, Arthurs said.

Arthurs reiterated SPIE's "unequivocal support" for R&D, but said that U.S. R&D no longer assured high-value manufacturing jobs in the U.S. He agreed with earlier testimony on concerns about the devastating effect that the drive to increase immediate-term shareholder value has had on the U.S. economy.

"The focus on shareholder value has mitigated against the long view for R&D, and at least in part led to the divergence of the corporate interest from the national interest," Arthurs said. "R&D is vitally important, but unless there is return on corporate and national R&D, a healthy U.S. R&D manufacturing symbiosis, R&D will dry up."

He cautioned that the recent expansion in federal R&D funding to improve the nation's competitiveness and innovation infrastructure "will be futile -- if the end result does not include emphasis on capital investment in manufacturing technologies and the training of American workers."

"The U.S. may continue to be world leaders in the science of LEDs or the semiconductor lasers that power the Internet, but the location of the semiconductor foundries and the know-how to manufacture in volume suggest that these green manufacturing jobs will be outside the U.S.," Arthurs said.

Arthurs recommended that the government expand funding for the Technology Innovation Program (TIP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as well as the set-aside amounts for the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) within science agencies. "The TIP Program at NIST is a small step in the right direction, but its funding is totally inadequate," he said. "The excellent SBIR program should be expanded and the evaluation process should place more emphasis on local job creation."

Photo caption: Above, from left, Sen. Sherrod Brown (Dem.-Ohio), SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs, and Richard Appelbaum of the University of California, Santa Barbara, talk about trade issues in a hearing before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

SPIE is the International Optics and Photonics Society, founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 188,000 constituents from 138 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. In 2008, SPIE provided $1.9 million for scholarships, grants, and other activities supporting research and education around the world. For more information, visit SPIE.org.

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