$600M Project to Operate in Rochester, Albany
ROCHESTER, N.Y., July 27, 2015 — From creating jobs locally to boosting America's technological competitiveness abroad, a national photonics institute to be established here already aspires to some lofty goals.
Vice President Joe Biden visited "the optics capital of the world" Monday to announce that Rochester had been chosen to host the institute, which will be supported by more than $610 million in federal, state and private funds.
Its focus will be on integrated photonics — technology that incorporates optical components onto microchips. Biden said integrated photonics has the potential to vastly speed up communications and reduce energy demands from data centers, as well as to enable advanced sensors for medical and military applications.
"This is one of the most promising areas we could move into, and I can think of no more promising place to do it than here in Rochester," Biden said during a 20-minute speech. "All the intellectual horsepower we need resides right here."
To be called AIM Photonics (for American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics), the institute will operate out of multiple locations, including fabrication facilities at the State University of New York (SUNY) Polytechnic Institute in Albany and packaging and assembly facilities at the University of Rochester.
The institute will be funded over five years by $110 million from the Defense Department — the largest federal contribution to date for a public-private manufacturing institute, according to the White House. More than $250 million will be contributed by New York state, and another $250 million or more will come from other states and the private sector.
"It's a tremendous investment, but it's not one where we imagine that when the contract is done that we'll be done," institute chairman and University of Rochester professor Robert Clark said in an interview. "What we're doing is standing up a sustainable operation for the long term."
Much of the institute's core technical team and infrastructure is already in place, Clark said. Its CEO will be Michael Liehr, a professor at the Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at SUNY Polytechnic.
Creating the institute's operations plan will take a few months, Clark said. The institute's board of directors will meet for the first time Tuesday morning.
Part of the institute's mission is to develop a standardized platform for photonic integrated circuits.
It will also offer open foundry services to photonics researchers around the country. Similar services are already in place at SUNY Polytechnic and the University of Rochester, Clark said.
"We have a great practice in having open facilities, where we work with the federal government and others to develop the facilities, that you certainly wouldn't want to replicate, you want to make available to others," he said. "That's how you would accelerate the technology development and research. And that's essentially what the open foundry model is."
Biden spoke during a ceremony that also featured New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, Defense Department Undersecretary Frank Kendall III, U.S. Reps. Thomas Reed and Louise Slaughter and SUNY Polytechnic President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros.
The festivities were held at the Canal Ponds Business Park in Greece, N.Y., just outside Rochester, which is already home to SUNY Polytechnic cleanroom facilities set to become part of the institute. Originally developed by Eastman Kodak Co. for optics manufacturing, Canal Ponds more recently has housed other types of business but now has come full circle, Kaloyeros said.
Many Rochester-area businesses with roots at Kodak will play a role in the institute. In a statement, the White House singled out Harris Corp. (formerly Exelis Inc.), Sydor Optics Inc. and Optimax Systems Inc. as having recently opened or expanded operations in the region.
AIM Photonics will draw expertise and resources from 55 companies, 20 universities, 33 community colleges and 16 nonprofits from New York and 19 other states. (For more details, see this White House fact sheet.)
Slaughter, a Democrat who advocated for the proposal in Washington, D.C., said at the ceremony that the Rochester area's heritage in optics and photonics made it the best choice to host the new institute.
"This is not new to us, not something we have to begin," she said. "It is something we're extraordinarily good at."
Re-energizing U.S. manufacturing
The Obama administration in November issued a call for proposals for an integrated photonics manufacturing institute as part of its National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). In February the New York consortium was named as a finalist along with the universities of Central Florida and Southern California.
AIM Photonics will be the sixth of nine institutes envisioned under the NNMI initiative. Biden said it will not only help revitalize Rochester but also contribute to the rebirth of U.S. manufacturing.
"AIM Photonics is going to act as a central hub and will give Rochester optics businesses the space and capacity they need to generate the next generation of breakthroughs and secure American leadership in the manufacturing of integrated photonics," he said.
Funding for the institute includes provisions for workforce development and recruitment through the community colleges in the consortium, according to Cuomo's office.
Industry groups, meanwhile, cheered selection of the New York proposal as a positive step for photonics and the U.S. as a whole.
“Photonics technologies in advanced manufacturing have been a key component in the revitalization of U.S. manufacturing, especially in the automotive and aerospace industries,” said Elizabeth Rogan, CEO of The Optical Society (OSA).
Eugene Arthurs, CEO of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, said the creation of the institute signals that photonics is gaining recognition at the highest levels of government.
"While other countries have heavily invested in advancing their optics and photonics industries, the United States' lead in this cutting-edge technology has dwindled," said Alan Willner, chairman of the National Photonics Initiative, an advocacy group. "Establishing an [Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation] in New York is a step in the right direction for our industry and will strengthen our country's position as the world leader in transitioning photonics research to commercial markets."