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3 Questions Interview

Photonics Spectra
Sep 2013
Dr. Thomas M. Baer is a major force in photonics. He’s the executive director of Stanford University’s Photonics Research Center and co-founder of Arcturus Bioscience Inc., which he established in 1996; he was the company’s chairman and CEO until January 2005. He has been elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and The Optical Society of America.

Baer is also the chair of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), the goal of which is to engage academia, industry and government in a collaboration to grow US leadership in photonics through education, investment in R&D and more. Photonics Spectra recently asked him three questions about his work on the NPI.

Q: What are you working on?

A: The NPI was established to assemble teams of industry, academia and government experts to identify and advance areas of photonics critical to maintaining US competitiveness and national security: advanced manufacturing, health care and medicine, defense and national security, information technology and communications, and energy.

One of the greatest challenges facing the photonics community and the NPI is a lack of familiarity among the general public and policy makers about photonics, which hinders our ability to garner support for initiatives important to our industry. Thus, the NPI is currently focused on educating those outside of our industry about the impact of photonics on their lives, community and country so that they connect and support our recommendations; drive funding and investment in the five key photonics industries; develop federal programs that encourage greater collaboration between US industry, academia and government labs; increase investment in education and job training programs; expand federal investments supporting university and industry collaboration; and team with US industry to review international trade practices impeding free and fair trade.

Q: What are the implications for the industry and for society?

A: Historically, the United States has been the world leader in deploying photonics research to power cutting-edge technologies, but global competition has put our leadership position at risk, causing a substantial loss of global market share to overseas competitors as well as thousands of US jobs. New opportunities arising from photonics – such as 3-D printing, solar power, nuclear threat identification, cancer detection and the growth of the Internet – offer the potential for even greater societal impact in the next few decades. US investment in photonics-driven fields will create jobs and grow our economy, protect and improve the lives of our people, and position the United States as a global technology leader.

Q: What’s next?

A: As I mentioned, raising awareness about the NPI and photonics is our key priority at the moment. We have been busy this summer equipping our supporters with the messages and materials they need to get the word out in their states, and supplementing those efforts with media and congressional engagement.

During the month of August, we hosted two congressional events, one with Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) at the University of Central Florida and another with Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) at the University of Arizona, and we will host a third event with the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster in New York the beginning of September with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

Later in the month, the NPI will also host its first fly-in in Washington. The fly-in and this district’s events will serve both as an opportunity for NPI supporters to educate their members of Congress about photonics, and a chance to learn from policy makers where opportunities may exist for us to work together to achieve our goals.


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