NPI Volunteers Carry ‘Essential Technologies’ Message to Congress

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Visits to Congressional offices last week to talk about the importance of a National Photonics Initiative (NPI) with policies supporting economic competitiveness and R&D in key areas were well-received, reported volunteers who carried the message. The effort was organized by professional societies leading the initiative, including SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

Specific areas of photonics R&D emphasis are in healthcare, security, communications, manufacturing and energy.

The number of photonics supporters on Capitol Hill took a leap upward late last week, following dozens of visits to Congressional offices by photonics industry representatives from throughout the country. The visits were organized on behalf of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), led by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and the Optical Society (OSA) along with other societies in the sector.

Reports from the 19 volunteers sponsored by SPIE regarding their visits to approximately 45 offices were overwhelmingly positive. The NPI message reinforces the National Academies’ call in its 2012 report on the field to focus attention and resources on the essential technologies of optics and photonics. Specific areas of photonics R&D emphasis are in healthcare, security, communications, manufacturing and energy.

But last week’s volunteers found that photonics still has a long way to go to attain name familiarity, even among offices generally supportive of science and technology R&D.

A team including Michelle Stock, chair of the new Michigan photonics cluster Mi-Light, said that messages about the number and value of jobs created by the photonics industry were very compelling, even at offices where the term “photonics” was not well understood.

Stock and her team pointed out the integral role of photonics in advanced manufacturing, and the need to support photonics R&D efforts in funding future National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) projects. The team also illustrated connections with energy initiatives and health and medicine, pointing out the role of photonics in sustainable power generation as well as in effective diagnosis and therapy for high quality, affordable care.

SPIE Engineering, Science and Technology Policy Committee Chair Robert Lieberman, also found the message well-received, evidenced by penetrating questions about the specific needs of our community and a large number of requests for follow-up meetings.

“There is as growing realization in Washington that to remain competitive in the modern world, the U.S. must have a coherent policy focused on maintaining our nation’s technological leadership,” Lieberman said. “Last week’s visits brought awareness on Capitol Hill that enhancing photonics, ‘the electronics of the 21st century,’ must be a key part of this policy.”

SPIE volunteers and states represented included:

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 235,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided over $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2012. More information is at http://spie.org.

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Amy Nelson
SPIE
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