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Coming Soon: The NEW

‘Back to business’ is the new normal … again

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December is a shadowy month. It occupies that brief span on the calendar when the lingering reminiscences of the current year compete with the looming ambitions of the next. A year ago, such reminiscences would have been dominated by the shadow of COVID-19’s sickness, shutdowns, and supply chain disruptions. This shadow remains today, but it has diminished in light of a steady stream of new global and industry developments over the course of 2022 that established some historic new high-water marks for photonics.

Most notable among them is the James Webb Space Telescope. Though it technically launched on Christmas Day in 2021, Webb finished its deployment months later and began returning once-impossible images and insights into our universe, thanks to notable photonics accomplishments, such as Webb’s mirror array and its Mid-Infrared Instrument.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, photonics was central to three researchers — Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger — who shared the 2022 Nobel Prize in physics for their work with entangled photons and quantum information science, and for establishing the violation of Bell inequalities.

In another headline proving all probabilities are possible, the U.S. Congress passed the CHIPS and Science Act this year, apportioning $52 billion to restore the nation’s domestic semiconductor industry and establish a technology directorate to advance critical science initiatives in quantum information science and workforce training.

Some 2022 developments become evident only after reading multiple headlines. Consolidation continues to be a trend in photonics, with major acquisitions announced or closed this year in all three photonic component sectors: lasers, optics, and sensors. To name a few 2022 acquisitions: Lumentum took on NeoPhotonics. II-VI acquired Coherent and subsequently rebranded itself as Coherent. Jenoptik bought both BG Medical Applications and SwissOptic. And Hamamatsu absorbed NKT Photonics.

The consolidation trend is likely to continue among photonic bellwethers in 2023, and it might take the form of a shakeout in the automotive lidar sector.

A close review of 2022 headlines also reveals other emerging trends: The nascent quantum technology sector, for example, is trying to shift its narrative from a research story to an engineering story, while the PICs sector is trying to shift its attention from solving manufacturing challenges to expanding into new volume markets.

Despite continuing disruptions from supply chain gaps, energy shortages, and the Russia-Ukraine war, 2022 looked markedly more positive for the photonics industry than 2021. And 2023 will be even better in one respect: Live industry events such as Photonics West and LASER World of PHOTONICS are on track to regain their former momentum, while new events highlighting PICs and quantum technology are appearing on next year’s calendar.

Next year will also bring its share of old, new, and unexpected challenges. But because the photonics industry has long proved resistant to economic disruptions, and it generates as much as 11% of the global economy’s value (per SPIE’s 2022 Optics & Photonics Industry Report), there is cause to be optimistic that shadows will never linger in the industry of light.

Photonics Spectra
Dec 2022

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