WASHINGTON, D.C., and BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Volunteers sponsored by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, were in Washington, D.C., last week to thank Congressional representatives for recent support for photonics R&D and to urge future support for in several key areas vital to economic growth and scientific progress. They were among more than 250 scientists, engineers, and business leaders visiting Capitol Hill 12-13 March for a Congressional Visits Day (CVD) sponsored by the Science-Engineering-Technology (SET) Work Group.
SPIE volunteers focused primarily on three messages identified by the SPIE Engineering, Science, and Technology Policy (ESTeP):
- Support for a National Photonics Initiative (NPI) being forwarded by a coalition of professional societies including SPIE, LIA (Laser Institute of America), IEEE Photonics Society, OSA (The Optical Society), and the American Physical Society. The 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.
- Overhaul of export controls. Overly restrictive regulations on dual-use technologies and inconsistent interpretation and enforcement have created business, research, and workforce barriers that limit U.S. leadership in science and technology. Government export rules have driven high-tech jobs abroad and have made U.S. companies uncompetitive in the global marketplace.
- Eliminating restrictions on government employee travel to scientific conferences. Regulations released in a May 2012 OMB (Office of Management and Budget) memorandum are being applied inconsistently and limit federal participation in scientific and technical conferences, impeding the dissemination of research that results in useful innovation and imposing adverse long-term consequences on national competitiveness.
SPIE volunteers included:
- Dan Christensen (New York)
- Olivia Rae Fehlberg (Arizona)
- Ben Franta (Iowa/Massachusetts)
- Thomas Koch (Arizona)
- Sara Landau Lampen (Arizona)
- Robert Lieberman (California)
- Jim McNally (New Mexico)
- Kaye Rowan (Arizona).
The volunteers said they were pleased with the results of their visits and the reception they received on Capitol Hill. Members and staff were generally in agreement that now is a critical time for the U.S. to be prioritizing investments in science and innovation and that while control of spending is important, funding for R&D and for STEM education are important ways to grow the economy.
"I appreciate the preparations by SPIE to support those of us working in photonics to succinctly bring our message to our representatives in Congress," said Jim McNally, director of operations at Applied Technology Associates. "The background materials and coaching tips provided really help us to clearly and concisely articulate the critical priorities to support our nation's competiveness and innovation edge. We were able to have very productive discussions emphasizing the urgency for a National Photonics Initiative."
Ben Franta, a student at Harvard University, called the event "an eye-opening experience. In the same way that being a scientist or engineer is very different from what most other people imagine it to be, our government operates in a way that's different from what we might expect by watching or reading the news."
Franta said the CVD program was "a valuable opportunity to engage with our lawmakers in a way that can lead to real results. To me, the fact that SPIE makes such great use of this opportunity -- both to communicate with Congress and to educate students like me -- shows a forward-looking approach to promoting technologies in optics and photonics in this country and throughout the world." (Read more first-hand observations in an interview with Franta on the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences website: https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news-events/press-releases/capitol-gains.)
An evening reception provided an informal opportunity for CVD participants to talk with Congressional members and staff, and included an exhibition in which company representatives demonstrated products based on discoveries and innovations resulting from federal R&D funding. SPIE co-sponsored a booth highlighting the recent National Academies report, "Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation," and raising awareness of efforts to create the NPI.
At the reception, the SET George E. Brown Award was presented to Representatives Mike Honda (D-California) and Richard Hanna (R-New York), to recognize their outstanding efforts to advance and promote science, engineering, and technology on Capitol Hill.
More than 50 percent of all industrial innovation and growth in the United States since World War II can be attributed to advances pioneered through scientific research, with publicly funded R&D the vital foundation for today's scientific and technological progress.
Technology transfer from academic research adds billions of dollars to the economy each year and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.
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 networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2012.
SPIE Congressional Visits Day volunteers: from left, above, Sara Landau Lampen, Olivia Rae Fehlberg, and Kaye Rowan during a reception with staff and Members; below, Robert Lieberman, Ben Franta, and Dan Christensen in a Congressional office building.
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