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  • NAS Seeks Industry Input
Jan 2011
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 28, 2011 — The National Academy of Sciences is about to get very up close and personal with the photonics industry, thanks to an impending in-depth, all-encompassing study. In a follow-up to the 1998 “Harnessing Light” study, called “Harnessing Light II” for now, the NAS plans to assess the state of photonics in the US.

And members of the photonics community have already gotten to help shape the course of the study, thanks to a special forum held at Photonics West 2011. At the beginning of the forum, Erik Svedberg, senior program officer for the NAS National Materials and Manufacturing Board, outlined the five key goals of the study, to be overseen by co-chairs Dr. Alan Willner of the University of Southern California and Dr. Paul McManamon of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The goals are:

1) To review updates in the state of the science since the first report;
2) To identify technology opportunities that have arisen from recent advances and potential opportunities;
3) To assess the current state of optical science and engineering, looking at market and workforce needs, at in private and public research sectors both in the US and abroad, at manufacturing infrastructure and at the impact of photonics on the national economy, in order to translate recent progress into a competitive advantage;
4) To prioritize research grand-challenge questions;
5) To devise near-term and long-range recommended actions for development and maintenance of the industry, and to communicate those actions to global leadership and agents of change.

After Svedberg introduced these goals, the floor was opened up for input from the audience, who lined up in both aisles to offer ideas for the committee to consider. Some of the industry’s current concerns include making potential investors, policymakers and even average citizens understand what photonics and optics are, and how they enable so many other technologies; export controls and regulations; how to encourage US students to go into optics and photonics engineering; measuring how photonics enables other technologies; and how to ensure availability of necessary materials.

The committee will be looking into those concerns and more, Svedberg assured the crowd. He noted that anyone with further thoughts, suggestions or questions for the committee could e-mail him at

Continuing in-person feedback and suggestions for the NAS committee are welcome as the study progresses, too; Svedberg said that when the committee holds formal meetings, there always will be open forum sessions scheduled for the photonics community to offer input. After all, Eugene Arthurs, CEO of SPIE, introduced Svedberg at the beginning of the forum, and he noted that part of the intention behind the open forum relates to a common expression from his native Ireland – that God gave each of us one mouth and two ears, and maybe we should take the hint.

And perhaps if we do, we will be better equipped to encourage policymakers to support and promote photonics.

Laura S. Marshall, managing editor

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