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US Congressional Optics and Photonics Caucus Launches

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WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 25, 2021 — The U.S. Congressional Optics and Photonics Caucus held its public launch event Feb. 24, in a virtual format. The bipartisan, bicameral caucus is co-chaired by Joe Morelle of N.Y. and Brian Mast of Fla. in the House of Representatives, and Krysten Sinema of Ariz. and Steve Daines of Mont. in the Senate.

Conversations at the event spanned issues relating to the optics and photonics workforce, which speakers said is lacking in terms of size and its ability to meet demand. Many researchers, Monroe Community College professor Alexis Vogt said, are finding themselves taking on the roles of technicians because there are not enough trained technicians available to meet current industry demands.

Adele Ratcliff, director of the Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) program within the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy, echoed Vogt. “We have got to have a skilled workforce that’s rightly sized,” Ratcliff said. “To respond to that need and begin to catalyze things, the IBAS program that I run within the Department of Defense launched the national imperative for industrial skills.”

That initiative works with members of the defense community to develop technical capabilities within the workforce to be able to meet the technological manufacturing demands of the defense industry. A major player in that initiative is the photonics industry, and to that end the program will begin a precision optics program to train optical technicians to work in that space.

The defense industry isn’t the only area of the photonics industry lacking in workforce numbers, event speakers said. Bruce Tromberg, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, said that the biomedical industry accounts for about 20% of the United States’ gross domestic product. Rep. Morelle added that the number is likely to rise as the baby-boomer generation ages, which will lead to a probable increase in demand for medical services.

National Photonics Initiative Chairman Ed White cited the need for mainstream talent “and sufficient talent” in the research and development sector to realize and bring more photonic technologies to market.

“Funding research at academic institutions, startups, small- and medium-sized companies, large companies, and national labs is essential to increasing the R&D portfolio,” White said. “We also, as was said in the opening remarks, must develop educational and training programs at all levels to ensure that the talent to advance important technologies and to translate these important technologies into products that improve our security, our health, and our overall quality of life.”

Funding at the federal level, too, is at an all-time low, Morelle said.

“This caucus will work to show, I hope,” Morelle said, “how historic investments in light-based technologies have led to great benefits in society, and that future investment is critical in ensuring that America leads innovation on the global stage once more.”
Feb 2021
BusinessgovernmentcaucusOptics and Photonics CaucusArizonaOptics Valleyfundingfederal fundingdefenseUnited StatesBiophotonicsworkforceworkforce educationeducationtrainingDepartment of DefenseNational Photonics InitiativeNational Photonics Initiative AIM PhotonicsAIM PhotonicsEd WhiteBruce TrombergRochesterMontanaFloridaNew York

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