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SPIE Professional: Bonus Web Content

Funding Opportunities in Optics, Photonics

Numerous funding opportunities for optics and photonics businesses, researchers, and students are available via the National Science Foundation (USA), the European research Framework Programme, the U.S. Small Business Technology Transfer Program, and other organizations.

For example, the Technology Strategy Board (UK) plans to create a network of six to eight technology and innovation centers focused on the area of high-value manufacturing. The TSB has received £200 million in funding for the centers and has several other programs for optics and photonics research.

The NSF is also seeking proposals for collaborative research in electronics, photonics, and magnetic devices, and support for the military is a common driver behind contracts available from Homeland Security, the U.S. Army, and other defense agencies.

SPIE wants to see its members succeed. A sampling of some of the funding opportunities available are listed below. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list.

(Updated 14 February 2011)

U.S. Government Grants

logo for U.S. grant WebsiteGrants.gov is the best starting point to find and apply for U.S. federal grants. The U.S. government will spend an estimated $143.4 billion for R&D in 2011. Although less than $10 billion is budgeted for general science funding, much of the funds designated for defense R&D ($82 billion), health ($32 billion), and other areas use optics and photonics technologies.

Several research endeavors that recently received funding from the U.S. Commerce Department's Technology Innovation Program show the range and impact of photonics in improving our quality of life.

This round of TIP awards are for advanced manufacturing research in electronics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. They target innovative technologies in fields ranging from biopharmaceuticals and electronics to renewable energy sources and energy storage. The nine projects announced in December 2010 were selected from 110 proposals.

Other resources for federal grants in the United States

The Department of Defense, through its Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) is seeking innovative environmental technology demonstrations as candidates for funding this year. Pre-proposals are due Tuesday 8 March in the areas of environmental restoration, munitions response, resource conservation, and weapon systems and platforms.

A recent issue of Washington Technology magazine listed the top 20 government contracts for 2011. They include a request for proposals (RFP) by the U.S. Army for a variety of communications services, including satellite, microwave, fiber optics, and wireless, and one from the Army Space and Missile Defense Command for platform and sensor technologies, communications networks and other support technologies.

European Framework Programme Seven (FP7)

FP7 Europe logoFP7, which runs from 2007 until 2013, bundles all research-related initiatives in the European Union together under a common roof to reach the goals of growth, competitiveness, and employment. It also includes a new Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), education and training programmes, and Structural and Cohesion Funds for regional convergence and competitiveness.

The EU work programme for ICT research in 2011 and 2012 is published by the EU's Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS). It covers calls for energy-efficient buildings, OLAE research and numerous related activities. The ICT call for proposals No. 7 will result in project funding of nearly €780 million for 2011, much of it photonics-related.

The fifth call for proposals, meanwhile, and the 2011 work programme on innovative lighting systems based on solid-state lighting (SSL) will be published 28 February. The European Union plans to hold Information Days in February for upcoming calls on information and communication technologies (ICT) and solid-state lighting. Registration for the Call 5 Info Day will be open until 18 February. See the CORDIS Web site for more details on the SSL pilots, including a set of FAQs. 

Funding for ICT research is in accord with the Digital Agenda for Europe, which calls for doubling annual public spending on ICT R&D by 2020 and leveraging an equivalent increase in private spending to achieve the goals of Europe's 2020 strategy for jobs and growth. These funds provide major opportunities for innovative SMEs. ICT research projects in the EU support more than 15,000 researchers every year and stimulate Europe's capacity to innovate.

An Information Day on proposals related to ICT for innovative government and public services will be held 18 March in Brussels. Attendance is limited to 100 participants, and registration is required before 15 March.

The European Commission is expected to invest a record €6.4 billion on research and innovation in 2011 and is making preparations for the next EU research programmes: 2nd Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP II) and the Research Framework Programme 8 (FP8).

Some 16,000 European organizations are expected to receive funding this year, including 3000 small- and medium-sized enterprises. Research projects include a collaboration between the EU and Brazil on information and communication technologies.

Watch for announcements about calls for proposals by agencies and organizations, such as the ones listed below, that provide funding and/or other support related to photonics R&D. You can also learn more at an ICT Proposers' Day in Budapest 19-20 May.

Miscellaneous Funding News

image of red arrow TSB

The Technology Strategy Board intends to stimulate innovation by small and micro companies in digital services through an investment of up to £2 million in feasibility studies. The purpose of the Feasibility Studies in Digital Services funding competition is to help companies to harness emerging growth opportunities and overcome initial hurdles to development.

Open only to small or micro companies (50 employees or fewer), the competition will close 10 February 2011. Successful applicants will be informed at the end of February.

Projects may be collaborative or carried out by a single company and can cost up to £33,000; funding of up to 75% of costs (£25,000) may be available. Each funded project will last up to three months and will culminate in a short report as well as a demonstrator, where relevant.

Project proposals must relate to new and emerging business opportunities for digital services in one of the following areas: using data sources in the public domain; complementing public sector provision of services to citizens; emergence of the 'Internet of Things'; challenges to adoption of cloud-based computing.

The TSB has also published a Digital Strategic Update, which outlines how it will help businesses unlock the economic potential of digital technology, by identifying and addressing digital challenges and resolving tensions between people, processes, and technology. The focus will be on tackling digital challenges that are systemic and could hold back whole or multiple sectors due to factors such as misaligned incentives, conflicting interests, incomplete or disjointed value chains, or industry fragmentation.

image of red arrow


An interim report on the effectiveness of FP7 says the research program is clearly making a significant contribution to European science. Among the report's 10 recommendations for the last three years of the program are to maintain, at a minimum, the level of funding for future programs and to take further steps to increase participation by female scientists and scientists from member states that are under-represented. A separate recommendation to simplify the funding and reporting processes was echoed by Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International.  

image of red arrow    DOE

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded three OLED lighting small-business grants to Universal Display. The largest project is in Phase II already, and is focused on the development of "ultra-high-efficiency" phosphorescent OLEDs for lighting applications". UDC will produce a white OLED that features 120lm/W efficiency by improving out-coupling of light from the OLED structure through high-index substrates and low-voltage operation. The second will focus on thermal management issues and optical improvements. UDC will make 15cm square panels with various designs, to see the thermal impacts of each. Lower temperature operation will help to extend the lifetime of the OLEDs. The last project addresses light extraction issues. UDC will develop low-cost thin materials that has improved light extraction.

image of red arrow Biophotonics Start-up Challenge

SPIE hosted the first Biophotonics Start-up Challenge at Photonics West in San Francisco 24 January. Nineteen aspiring entrepreneurs were able to polish their pitching skills before four volunteer judges. Each was allowed two minutes to pitch a new venture to Sergey Egorov (Del Mar Photonics and Tech Coast Angels), Linda Smith (Ceres Technology), Adam Wax (Duke University), and Brandon Yee (Daylight Solutions). The top three walked away with sponsorship from Newport Spectra-Physics to attend the University of California, Davis, Biomedical Engineering Entrepreneurship Academy, and a travel stipend from SPIE. The five-day academy will help participants construct a business case, analyze markets, and develop a network of connections to help drive their new ventures. Top winners were:

First place: Hariharan Subramanian (Northwestern University), Screening for lung cancer using partial wave spectroscopic microscopy.

Second place: Chang Won (Temple University), Detecting malignant tumors with tactile imaging system.

Third place: Natan Shaked (Duke University), InCh microscope: compact and portable quantitative phase microscope for label-free cell imaging.

Honorable mentions went to Jerome Lapointe (Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal), Michelle Xu (University of Toronto), Behnam Molavi (University of British Columbia), Babak Shadgan (University of British Columbia) and Yuan Luo (MIT).


Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201101.40

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