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SPIE Professional October 2015

US establishes photonics manufacturing hub in NY

The newly funded American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics) will form the central hub of a $610 million public-private effort to advance photonics manufacturing capability in the United States.

It will also be a boost to the New York state economy and is expected to strengthen academic-industrial ties and the photonics workforce in New York and 19 other states that are part of a 124-partner consortium awarded a $110 million grant from the US Department of Defense (DoD).

Joe Biden made the official announcement of AIM Photonics.

US Vice President Joe Biden in July announced the award to a consortium led by the Research Foundation of the State University of New York (SUNY). The group includes 55 companies, 53 educational organizations, and 16 other consortium members, including SPIE, that plan to leverage some $500 million in matching funds to create a national infrastructure for integrated photonics based on an open foundry model. The state of New York has committed half of that, $250 million, for the AIM Photonics hub.

Intended to be widely accessible and financially self-sustaining, the new institute will focus on developing lower-cost, higher-speed, and more efficient manufacturing processes for photonic circuits and improving the performance and reliability of telecommunications, radar, lasers, and other technologies.

Michael Liehr, a former IBM executive and executive vice president of innovation, technology, and research at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute nanotech campus in Albany, will be AIM Photonics’ CEO.

Key operations, including a state-of-the-art photonics prototyping operation, will be spread across New York, California, Arizona, Massachusetts, and other areas, including University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Science at University of Rochester (UR), and the College of Optical Sciences at University of Arizona in Tucson (OSC).

The new institute is the sixth of nine public-private partnerships in the National Network of Manufacturing Institutes (NNMI) that are expected to foster American manufacturing innovation and global technology leadership while creating jobs that strengthen the middle class.

Its core mission will be to serve the needs of the DoD, which organized the competition for the federal grant. The manufacturing capabilities resulting from this effort will also serve small- to medium-sized companies seeking to commercialize integrated photonics components.


LOGO FOR National Photonics InitiativeSPIE leaders said AIM Photonics marks another important step forward in recognition for photonics technologies and their role in the economy and society, and it is an important milestone for the efforts of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI) and the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL2015).

“This announcement, occurring during the UN-decreed observance of the International Year of Light, is very energizing for our national photonics community,” said SPIE Fellow Jim McNally, chair of the SPIE Engineering, Science, and Technology Policy committee. “NPI and other advocacy activities intended to raise awareness among national, state, and local policy leaders and decision makers have produced a tangible outcome.”

McNally noted that having photonics as a key part of the national network of institutes adds to the recognition of light-based science and technologies for their critical importance to US global competitiveness and for the optics and photonics applications that significantly improve quality of life.

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs noted that the grant competition has provided a singular opportunity for photonics industry leaders across the USA to capture the attention of policy and decision makers in the federal funding sphere.

The other projects competing in the final round were led by University of Central Florida and University of Southern California.

“We who work in photonics on a daily basis already know how powerful and important our technologies are in advancing science, improving how we live, and in fueling the economy and job growth,” Arthurs said. “But the opportunity to advocate for the establishment of a photonics manufacturing institute, followed by the competition for this impressive level of funding, has helped gain new recognition for our industry’s research and development leaders.

“The wide range of life-enhancing, even sometimes life-saving, capabilities of light-based science and technology are being recognized and understood by important new partners at the highest levels of government strategy and funding direction.”

SPIE is a founding partner of IYL2015 as well as a founding sponsor of the NPI, a collaborative alliance in the US among industry, academia, government, and not-for-profit societies. The NPI was launched in 2013 to raise awareness of photonics, increase collaboration throughout the photonics community, and drive US funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining US economic competitiveness and national security.

Arthurs said SPIE members and partners “have worked hard to communicate the benefits of photonics, in enabling lifesaving medical treatments and diagnostics, global communications, space exploration, 3D printing, sustainable energy and lighting in developing and developed nations, and more secure communities. We are gratified that policy makers and funding organizations have seen fit to support and enable further photonics advances.”

Tom Battley, executive director of the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster and New York Photonics, agreed. “The best and the brightest minds in optics and photonics science volunteered their time to lead the effort to tell the story of how important optics and photonics are to our nation,” he said.


Among the private-sector partners of AIM Photonics are IBM, GE, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Synopsys, Infinera, Boeing, Corning, Chiral Photonics, Optimax, Sydor Optics, Freedom Photonics, and TeraDiode.

“The R&D that this photonics institute creates will filter down to new startup firms all over our region by creating jobs that will have lasting effects on our local and national economy,” said an elated James Sydor, president of Sydor Optics in Rochester. “That’s what this country needs.”

Mike Mandina, president of New York-based Optimax Systems, said the institute will impact the regional economy and provide access to equipment that many companies cannot afford on their own.

“I also think it’s going to strengthen the lines of study at the universities and bring world-class experts in the photonics space,” he said.

Celebrating the announcement in July, left to right: Arizona’s Tom Koch, SUNY Poly’s Liehr, and SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs.

Indeed, officials at UR, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and other universities involved lauded the historic announcement. UR President Joel Seligman predicted that “AIM Photonics will provide and empower the absolute best talent, sustainable relationships, and infrastructure required to capture and sustain US global leadership in this critical industry.”

Thomas Koch, the OSC dean, said he was gratified to see so many major stakeholders in the photonic integration community supporting a major federal initiative. “We are also indebted to the National Photonics Initiative for its support in advancing the cause. The applications that will be enabled by chip-scale, highly integrated photonics and electronics are boundless.”

Koch will chair the Technology Review Board for AIM Photonics. Other OSC participation will come from faculty, including major contributions from SPIE Fellows Nasser Peyghambarian, Robert A. Norwood, and Stanley Pau. In addition, the Arizona Commerce Authority has committed up to $2.5 million of tax incentives over the initial five-year period of the new institute to Arizona companies that support AIM Photonics programs at the university.

“The support of the state of Arizona has positioned us well for national participation,” Koch said. “The role and influence of our own Optics Valley here in Tucson should also not be understated. These firms continually demonstrate the university’s propensity to move discovery to the marketplace.”

The project is also a big win for Columbia University, with photonics experts Keren Bergman, Michal Lipson, and Alex Gaeta involved, as well as the recently launched Columbia Nano Initiative.

West Coast operations of the AIM Photonics hub will be coordinated at UCSB, a leader in integrating lasers onto silicon, under the leadership of John Bowers, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the campus Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE), who has been named deputy CEO.

“AIM and UC Santa Barbara are leading a revolution that is integrating photonics and electronics for the benefits of both,” Bowers said. “Our goal is to use CMOS processing to move photonics onto silicon, accelerate the integration of photonics, and eliminate the data bottleneck that advanced silicon chips are facing during the next decade.”

UCSB’s John Bowers (left) and postdoctoral researcher Tin Komljenovic with a wafer of integrated photonic circuitry to be manufactured by AIM Photonics.
UCSB photo by Sonia Fernandez

Stanford University is also a consortium member as are other UC campuses at Davis, Berkeley, and San Diego.


Experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are to manage key parts of the AIM Photonics program. For example, Michael Watts will be the CTO and lead an effort focused on silicon photonics while SPIE member Lionel Kimerling, the Thomas Lord Professor in Materials Science and Engineering, will head a program in education and workforce development.

MIT’s Michael Watts (left) and Lionel Kimerling.
MIT photo by Bryce Vickmark

MIT’s existing collaboration with SUNY Polytechnic led to the first complete 300-millimeter silicon-photonics platform, Watts noted. That has led to numerous subsequent advances in silicon photonics technology, with MIT developing photonic designs that the SUNY team then built in its state-of-the-art fabrication facility.

Among the many examples of applications set to benefit from highly integrated photonics, he said, could be lidar systems for collision-avoidance in cars. “LIDAR systems that exist today are both bulky and expensive, because they use mechanically scanned lasers,” he said.

Developing that kind of functionality at the nanoscale, using phased-array systems on a chip, could drastically reduce size and cost, providing high-resolution 3D imaging capabilities on a chip, he predicted.

Kimerling echoed comments by Biden and others at the Rochester launch that industry coordination and a trained workforce were needed to develop a robust photonics industry in the US.

“Europe is ahead in industry coordination right now,” Kimerling said. With the AIM Photonics initiative, he said, “The bet is that the innovation and research here, combined with the manufacturing capability, will allow [US] companies to really take off.”

As an example, the new institute might spur development of a Silicon Valley-like corridor along Interstate 90, from Boston to Albany and Rochester. Industrial firms along the 400-mile-long corridor could build on the base of new photonics technology to develop related products and services.

Education and job development programs that train people in electronics and optics will be key, Kimerling said. Until recently, he said, electronics and optical technologies have been regarded as two very different fields.

Both fields are important, but they “don’t exist today in one organization,” he said.

Liehr said he was excited about the expanded collaboration between SUNY Poly and MIT. Establishment of the institute, he said, “will be truly transformational for both the industry and the nation.”

For more information: AimPhotonics.com

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201510.02

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