The last quarter of 2014 was an eventful one for photonics in the United States, as years of efforts to raise the profile of photonics paid off in the form of significant government initiatives.
In early October, SPIE leadership and researchers in photonics-related industries reacted enthusiastically to the news from the Obama administration committing more than $200 million in public and private investment to create an integrated photonics manufacturing institute.
“This is great news and a statement of the importance of integrated photonics for the technology industry and for the US economy overall. We’re seeing interest in this technology for data centers, high-performance computing and communications and expect that other areas, such as biotechnology, sensors and imaging, will benefit as well,” said Mario Paniccia, SPIE Fellow, Intel Fellow, and general manager of Intel’s Silicon Photonics Solutions Group.
A new ecosystem for advance manufacturing
The Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI) will focus on developing an end-to-end photonics ‘ecosystem’ in the US, including domestic foundry access, integrated design tools, automated packaging, assembly and test, and workforce development.
Each IMI serves as a regional hub, bridging the gap between applied research and product development by bringing together companies, universities and other academic and training institutions, and federal agencies to co-invest in key technology areas that encourage investment and production in the US.
Altogether, six IMIs have been announced. The integrated photonics institute is among four to be led by the Department of Defense. The Air Force Research Lab released a funding opportunity announcement in October, with a deadline for concept paper submission in December. Invitations for full proposals are expected in March.
With $110 million each in public and private resources, the institute is expected to comprise the largest federal investment in manufacturing to date, reflecting the complexity of photonics technology, its importance to national security, and its revolutionary potential, according to a White House fact sheet.
President Obama said in a speech that the creation of the new institute “speeds up the discovery process and means we are moving from discovery to application a lot faster.”
“Individuals from throughout the photonics ecosystem have worked diligently for the establishment of a photonics-centric IMI,” said SPIE Fellow James McNally, chair of the SPIE Engineering Science, Technology, and Policy Committee.
“This accomplishment is the result of many visits to congressional offices, multiple interactions with the White House, numerous optics technology demonstrations at various laboratories and companies throughout the US, and other conversations sharing the important contributions that optics and photonics make in our lives.”
Investing in the future of photonics
The group spearheading the effort that resulted in this government action is the National Photonics Intitiative (NPI), a collaborative alliance among industry, academia, and government seeking to raise awareness of photonics and drive US funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields critical to US competitiveness and national security: advanced manufacturing; communications and information technology; defense and national security; energy; and health and medicine.
“Integrated photonics technology already impacts our lives every second of the day, but ironically it is largely invisible,” said Tom Baer, NPI Steering Committee chairman.
“Investments in electronics during the 20th century stimulated large industrial growth in the US. New investments in integrated photonics will accelerate the translation of basic science into products, sustaining economic growth of the US high-technology industrial sector in the 21st century.”
SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs congratulated “those who have worked hard for this achievement,” saying that the IP-IMI will provide a powerful framework for innovation in manufacturing, developing new applications and improving the quality of life across the globe.
“I’m counting on this exercise converting some of the boundless ideas in our community into products, processes, and especially jobs,” he said.
Photonics: Now a US priority
In 1998 the National Research Council (NRC) released “Harnessing Light,” a comprehensive report on the potential impact of optics and photonics in key industries. In response, several countries, including Germany and China, advanced their already strong optics and photonics industries. The United States, however, did not develop a cohesive national strategy.
In 2012, the NRC’s sequel to “Harnessing Light” called for a National Photonics Initiative to identify and advance areas of photonics critical to maintaining competitiveness and national security.
In a collaborative effort, over 100 experts from industry, academia, and government assembled recommendations to help guide US funding and investment in several photonics-driven fields.
New opportunities in these fields — including solar power, high-efficiency lighting, genome mapping, high-tech manufacturing, defense and security, cancer detection, and new optical capabilities — offer the potential for even greater societal impact in the next few decades.
Learn more about NPI.