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Optical Design & Engineering

National Photonics Initiative envisioned at joint event in DC

SPIE Newsroom

Representatives of government and the photonics industry convened in Washington, DC on 28 February for a day-long event intended to raise awareness of the role of photonics and plan for its future in the U.S. economy and everyday life.

The event was a followup to the groundbreaking National Academy of Sciences report "Optics & Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation," released in August 2012. Four members of the committee that produced the report attended the event: Paul McManamon and Alan Willner, committee cochairs, along with Tom Baer and Edward White.

Organized by SPIE in partnership with four other technical organizations, the meeting consisted of two segments: a morning overview of work done by subcommittees and industry sharing their future needs, and afternoon breakout sessions covering the five key optics and photonics sectors -- communication, defense, health and medicine, manufacturing, and energy. The event was held to collect input and identify focus areas for a National Photonics Initiative (NPI), a key recommendation of the Optics & Photonics report.

The breakout sessions were an opportunity for different segments of the photonics community to provide their input on how to proceed with the NPI. The recommendations generated are expected to be released later in March.

"Photonics is a critical enabler for our high-tech economy," McManamon said. "The Internet, MRIs and CAT scans, and space mission spin-offs such as optical blood diagnostic instruments and infrared cameras that indicate hot spots in a fire are just a few examples of photonics-enabled applications. If the U.S. wants to retain high-tech leadership and jobs, we need the National Photonics Initiative."

More than 100 people attended, including representatives of numerous government labs and agencies. Some of those included the Department of Energy, National Institute of Standards and Technology, DARPA, the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, and NASA. Industry representatives included attendees from Corning, Agilent, Northrup-Grumman, Alacatel-Lucent, and IBM.

Among the topics discussed were industry's future needs, how to unify the field through an NPI, and potential partnership opportunities with government agencies. Besides SPIE, sponsoring organizations included OSA (Optical Society), IEEE Photonics Society, American Physical Society, and the Laser Institute of America.