NPI Advances

US takes steps toward National Photonics Initiative.

30 June 2014

An ideal time for you to make your voice heard on the importance of photonics is during the month of August, when the US Senate and Congress are in recess to allow elected representatives to visit with constituents back home.

SPIE is urging members to visit with their senators and congressional representatives during this “constituent work” period to make sure legislators understand the impact optics and photonics have in virtually all districts and states.

“Reach out to your legislators with an invitation to visit your organization between 4 August and 5 September,” says SPIE President H. Philip Stahl. “This is a timely opportunity to showcase your business or institution as fertile ground for job creation, entrepreneurial ventures, investment opportunities, and economic growth nationwide.”

Legislators may not be familiar with the role photonics plays in those areas, Stahl noted. A site visit to a lab or a demonstration of a new capability enabled by photonics is a powerful way to raise awareness, he said.

photo of Phil Stahl “We need to help policymakers understand that photonics as a driver for progress in the 21st century is what electronics was in the 20th century,” Stahl said. “Without the ability to envision how light-based technologies work, it is hard to envision what the future possibilities may be for diagnosing and treating illness; ensuring safe and robust communication systems; supporting safer communities; and producing sustainable energy sources, lighting, and other devices.”

Indeed, several developments this spring have advanced the goals of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), a collaborative alliance seeking to raise awareness of photonics and drive US funding and investment in key photonics-driven fields. “Let’s keep the momentum going,” Stahl said.

In April, a report prepared by the Fast-Track Action Committee on Optics and Photonics (FTAC-OP) for the Committee on Science of National Science and Technology Council outlined opportunities for federal investment and interagency cooperation in basic and early applied research in optics and photonics. Among the committee’s seven recommendations were setting up a photonics device “foundry” for academic users and small businesses; developing devices at “exotic” wavelengths beyond the infrared and visible range; and creating new components operating at extremely low light levels and powers.

In May, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), through its Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia Program (AMTech), awarded $500,000 to the University of Rochester's Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences (CEIS) to lead development of a national roadmap for photonics. The Consortium for Integrated Photonic Systems Manufacturing and several other high-tech projects also received AMTech grants.

In June, the Department of Defense (DoD) took a first step toward a possible new photonics-focused, public-private Institute of Manufacturing Innovation (IMI) as part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) when it issued a Request for Information (RFI) that included photonics as one of six technical areas of interest for a new IMI.

However, since photonics is only one of six competing technologies being considered, it is crucial that the photonics community respond to the RFI.

"Those of us in the community, whether in government, academia, or industry, are well aware of the importance of these technologies in everyone's lives,” Stahl says. “Right now, it is vital to communicate those impacts to the DoD."

The DoD will accept comments on the RFI through 14 July.

Read more information on the RFI, NPI, and/or visiting your legislator during the August recess.

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