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Photonics Societies Launch National Initiative

The National Photonics Initiative (NPI) — an alliance seeking to unite experts from industry, academia and the government to advance photonics R&D, to grow the US economy, and to improve national security — officially launched today.

A partnership of photonics societies — The American Physical Society, IEEE Photonics Society, Laser Institute of America (LIA), The Optical Society (OSA) and SPIE — announced the collaboration.

“Life without photonics is almost unimaginable. From the moment you wake up to the alarm on your smartphone, to swiping your credit card to pay for coffee, to logging into your computer and connecting with the world through the Internet, photonics makes it possible,” said OSA CEO Elizabeth Rogan. “The NPI will work to advance photonics in the areas that are most critical to the US, like improving the economy, creating jobs, saving lives and sparking innovation for future generations.”

Photonics generates, controls and detects light to advance manufacturing, robotics, medical imaging, next-generation displays, defense technologies, biometric security, image processing, communications, astronomy and much more. Photonics forms the backbone of the Internet, guides energy exploration, and keeps men and women in uniform safe with night-vision and physiological feedback on the battlefield.

In 1998, the National Research Council released a report, “Harnessing Light,” that presented a comprehensive overview of the potential impact of photonics on major industry sectors. In response, several worldwide economies moved to advance their already strong photonics industries. The US, however, did not develop a cohesive strategy. As a result, the US lost its competitive advantage in a number of cutting-edge technologies as well as thousands of jobs and companies to overseas markets.

“The EU, Germany, Korea, Taiwan and China all recognize the importance of photonics and have taken action,” said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. “The US Department of Defense, for example, has long supported photonics, but more photonics research is needed to maintain our national security in the face of nontraditional threats. The time is now for the US to make the right investments in the crucial capabilities of the future.”

In 2012, the National Research Council released “Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation,” which called for a national photonics initiative to regain US leadership in key photonic-driven fields (See: Report Hails Photonics as Hope for US Economy). In response to that call, the NPI was established to raise awareness about photonics and its impact on our everyday lives; to increase collaboration and coordination among US industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields; and to drive US funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining US competitiveness and national security (See: ‘The Promise of Optics and Photonics’ Presented on Capitol Hill).

“The NPI offers an opportunity for us to show how critical it is for federally funded research to flourish in this country,” said Kate Kirby, executive officer of the American Physical Society. “So many of the technologies that we use have come from the results of basic research funded by the federal government.”

As part of the NPI effort, more than 100 experts from industry, academia and government collaborated to draft a white paper detailing recommendations to guide funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields: advanced manufacturing, communications and information technology, defense and national security, health and medicine, and energy. New opportunities such as 3-D printing, more efficient solar power, improved nuclear threat identification, more accurate cancer detection, and the growth of Internet speeds and capacity offer the potential for even greater societal impact in the next few decades.

“There are thousands of companies that have sprung up in the last decade or so that produce the photonics devices and systems that we all depend on now, but there's plenty of room for growth,” said Richard Linke, executive director of the IEEE Photonics Society.

To capitalize on new opportunities and to regain global leadership and economic prosperity, the white paper also provides key recommendations to the US government that apply across all five of the fields: The NPI maintains that fulfillment of these recommendations will position the US as a global leader in photonics research and development, and will grow the US economy and add jobs at home. 

“Our objective is to direct funding intelligently to research, implementation, and education and training, with the ultimate goal of restoring US competitiveness, thereby improving our security, our economy and our quality of life,” said LIA Executive Director Peter Baker.

For the complete white paper and for more information about the NPI, visit:

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