Strong role for optics and photonics in American Innovation and Competitiveness Act hailed by SPIE

Optics and photonics good for economy, security now and into the future

11 January 2017

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA, and CARDIFF, UK — Photonics industry and STEM advocates associated with SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, are commending the U.S. Congress and President Obama for their recognition of the importance of optics and photonics, following the signing Friday by the President of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA).

The language of the act (S. 3084) specifically calls out optics and photonics. It amends and establishes programs of the U.S. National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology and for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

"We are very pleased to see this commitment on the part of the federal government to the technologies that will help ensure that jobs and talent stay in the U.S. and usher in next-generation technologies across many economic sectors," said Jason Mulliner, chair of the SPIE Engineering, Science, and Technology Policy committee.

On top of that, Mulliner said, "It is extremely gratifying to see that the AICA incorporates specific mention of optics and photonics technologies as recommended by volunteers from across the country who have visited Congressional offices on behalf of the National Photonics Initiative and SPIE constituents."

Volunteers have brought the message through Congressional Visits Day events and in other meetings about the role of pivotal R&D investments in photonics, such as public-private partnerships, in promoting exploration of existing photonics technologies for additional applications, expanding industry, adding high-value jobs, and bolstering the economy.

"Not only are optics and photonics so much a part of life today — from smartphones to laser surgery and more — but they are key to advanced manufacturing, to advances in science and medicine, and in understanding our environment and the great universe," said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. "Public-private partnerships such as the AIM Photonics facility are important R&D investments that promote exploration of existing photonics technologies, spur innovative new applications and industries built around them, and foster research that will spark further advances."

In enacting the AICA, Arthurs said, "Congress and the President have directed the nation toward ensuring stable economic growth and technology leadership. The AICA widens the path for the next generation toward satisfying, productive careers, with support for more and improved STEM education. It affords the nation its surest opportunity for increased security, healthcare and energy improvements, and economic vitality, through support for the role of optics and photonics."

The AICA notes the important roles of the 1998 National Research Council (NRC) report Harnessing Light and the follow-up NRC study Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation in 2012 asserting the value of collaborations among academia, industry, and government labs, and identifying "areas of photonics critical to regaining United States competitiveness and maintaining national security."

The AICA details that "it is the sense of Congress" that:

  • optics and photonics research and technologies promote U.S. global competitiveness in industry sectors including telecommunications and information technology, energy, healthcare and medicine, manufacturing, and defense
  • federal science agencies, industry, and academia should seek partnerships with each other to develop basic research in optics and photonics into more mature technologies and capabilities.

In addition, each federal science agency should:

  • survey and identify optics and photonics-related programs share results with other agencies for the purpose of generating multiple applications and uses
  • partner with the private sector and academia to leverage knowledge and resources to maximize opportunities for innovation in optics and photonics
  • explore research and development opportunities to ensure a highly trained optics and photonics workforce in the United States
  • encourage partnerships between academia and industry to promote improvement in the education of optics and photonics technicians at the secondary school level, undergraduate level, and two-year college level
  • assess existing programs and explore alternatives to modernize photonics laboratory equipment in undergraduate institutions in the United States to facilitate critical hands-on learning.
'Not only are optics and photonics so much a part of life today — from smartphones to
laser surgery and more — but they are key to advanced manufacturing, to advances in
science and medicine, and in understanding our environment and the great universe.'

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, an educational not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based science, engineering, and technology. The Society serves nearly 264,000 constituents from approximately 166 countries, offering conferences and their published proceedings, continuing education, books, journals, and the SPIE Digital Library. In 2016, SPIE provided more than $4 million in support of education and outreach programs.


Amy Nelson
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