'Optics and Photonics' Launch Events Stress Opportunity for Economy, R&D Leadership

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A commitment to investment in optics and photonics will pay off in a stronger economy and continued R&D leadership, speakers told policy directors and law makers at events in Washington, D.C., launching the National Academies report "Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation." The events were sponsored by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and other organizations from the optics and photonics community.

Alan Willner, Steven Chu, Craig Barrett, Paul McManamon

At the launch briefing, from left, report committee cochair Alan Willner, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, fomer Intel CEO Craig Barrett, and report committee cochair Paul McManamon.

The biggest opportunity that the U.S. still has is to take its investment in basic technology research back to same level as a percent of GDP as it was 30 or 40 years ago.

The payoff from investing in optics and photonics will be a stronger economy and R&D leadership, according to a recently released National Academies report introduced to lawmakers on 12 September. Speakers at two Capitol Hill events for policymakers and legislators highlighted key components and challenges from “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation.” Sponsors were SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, as well as the American Physical Society (APS), the IEEE Photonics Society, and the Optical Society (OSA).

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and former Intel CEO Craig Barrett participated in the morning launch presentation at the Ronald Reagan Building, attended by federal agency staff and other stakeholders.

Chu noted that a significant challenge now for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar is not science and technology, but implementation. For example, installing solar panels on a roof is about three times as expensive in the U.S. as in Germany, due not to panel or installation costs but to licensing and inspection regulations, some of which predate solar and are not relevant to it. He urged that R&D continue, and stressed that overall planning should be broad enough to encompass deployment and cost-competitiveness goals.

Chu said that more science and engineering influence in government helps focus on looking for solutions rather than limitations in technology, and talked about important potential in other areas covered in report, such as high-resolution imaging of cell processes in controlling and preventing disease.

Barrett said that government and industry each have a role to play in supporting photonics and elevating awareness of it among decision-makers. "I think the key issue here is really singling out photonics and optics as one of the key technologies of the 21st century. And by the way, just about every other major economic power has done the same thing already," he said in an interview with SPIE prior to the event.

"I think that the biggest opportunity that the U.S. still has is to take its investment in basic technology research back to same level as a percent of GDP as it was 30 or 40 years ago," he said.

The afternoon event at the Rayburn House Office Building was attended by congressional representatives and staffers. Speakers included Martin Richardson, University of Central Florida; Greg Olsen, Princeton University; Tom Baer, Stanford University; and SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs.

Hear more comments on the report and the potential of optics and photonics in a brief video interview with Barrett and Olsen at http://spie.org/x90446.xml.

The report assesses the current state of optics, photonics, and optical engineering in the United States, prioritizes research grand-challenge questions to fill technological gaps, and recommends actions to support global leadership in photonics-driven industry.

The report calls for a National Photonics Initiative to improve the efficacy of U.S. public and private R&D resources, emphasizing the need for public policy that encourages adoption of a portfolio approach to investing in the opportunities available within photonics.

"Opportunity calls and its name is 'photonics'," Arthurs said at the caucus briefing. He noted the report's specific recommendations for increased R&D investment in areas including photonics communications, data infrastructure, security and defense, healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and sustainable clean energy, and the related opportunity for creation of large numbers of high-quality jobs.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 225,000 constituents from approximately 150 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional growth, and patent precedent. SPIE provided over $2.7 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2011.

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