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Photonics Spectra
Since 1967, Photonics Spectra magazine has defined the science and industry of photonics, providing both technical and practical information for every aspect of the global industry and promoting an international dialogue among the engineers, scientists and end users who develop, commercialize and buy photonics products. Stay current with a FREE subscription to the digital or print edition.

Latest Issue
Sep 2022

Elevate, advocate, repeat

Deriding the uneasy relationship between science and politics makes for good sport and offers almost as much smug satisfaction as mocking congressional inefficiency. But science and politics are deeply entangled in practice, and often in purpose.

The preceding year gave the scientific community ample opportunity to roll its eyes at the usual congressional dithering, partisanship, and horse-trading, while two bills supporting science and technology teetered on the precipice. Then, almost suddenly, this summer, the 117th U.S. Congress passed the CHIPS and Science Act, followed shortly by the Inflation Reduction Act.

The two bills — now signed into law — fuel much needed momentum in photonics end markets ranging from semiconductor manufacturing to clean energy research. Together, they also authorize multibillion-dollar budget increases over the next five years for multiple federal research agencies. The CHIPS Act further paves the road for the NSF to create a technology directorate to advance critical science initiatives in quantum information science and workforce training.

Compulsive skeptics might argue that the final draft of each bill watered down the original proposals, and much of the research funding that each authorizes remains subject to review by congressional panels. But it’s worth taking a moment to step back and recognize that getting something good is better than wishing for something perfect.

Those who advocate for science and technology in the halls of power could use a little optimism. This applies as well to those who advocate for the photonics industry, which, despite generating immense value in downstream markets, is neither a well-defined nor well-understood sector.

Consider: The latest edition of SPIE’s Optics & Photonics Industry Report, released in August, estimates that light-enabled products and services generate between $7 trillion and $10 trillion of value annually. That’s roughly equivalent to 11% of the global economy.

And yet, as SPIE’s report further observes, governments lack a clear definition of the industry. Photonics does not appear among the NAICS and NACE economic tracking codes that the U.S. and Europe respectively use to quantify sector revenues, which means other sectors are getting credit for the value this industry provides. A sampling by SPIE of 2750 photonics companies found them registered under 259 different NAICS codes.

If this summer’s legislative successes offer hope to the photonics industry’s political advocates, the sector’s lingering obscurity demands their resolve.

With this goal in mind, SPIE timed the release of its updated report with a Sept. 21 summit in Washington D.C., at which it will host U.S. government leaders and more than 100 photonics industry representatives to discuss federal policy and funding. In addition to raising the industry’s profile, SPIE’s stated goal is to better understand U.S. government priorities.

Photonics Media, a sponsor of the event, will be on site to cover the proceedings and to do our part to elevate the visibility of this industry’s value to internal and external stakeholders. Stay tuned to for our coverage.

Mike Wheeler
As editor-in-chief, Michael Wheeler oversees Photonics Media's editorial operations — spanning print, web, and podcasts. He also serves as editor of Vision Spectra, chronicling advancements in the rapidly expanding machine vision/inspection sector.
Dan McCarthy
Senior editor Dan McCarthy manages editorial content and production for Photonics Spectra. An award-winning writer and editor, he has communicated the progress and practical value of advanced technologies for over two decades.
Doug Farmer
Senior Editor Douglas Farmer has been a journalist for nearly 20 years, winning awards for health and education reporting. He has a master's degree in journalism from Ball State University. He is editor of EuroPhotonics and BioPhotonics magazines.
Hank Hogan
Contributing Editor Hank Hogan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He worked in the semiconductor industry and now writes about science and technology.
Marie Freebody
Contributing Editor Marie Freebody is a freelance science and technology journalist with a master’s degree in physics and a concentration in nuclear astrophysics from the University of Surrey in England.
Farooq Ahmed
Farooq Ahmed has covered the physical and biological sciences for over a decade. He has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Brown University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Columbia University.
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