Making photonics a priority

The recent, highly successful LASER World of Photonics tradeshow in Munich makes very clear the international nature of photonics products and applications, and the success of related businesses. It also makes clear that countries such as Germany and regions such as Europe that have made photonics a public policy priority have benefited greatly and stand to benefit even more in the future. To remain competitive, the U.S. must do the same.

Traditionally, U.S. corporate and government support is slow to form behind policy that “chooses winners” or directs business behavior, with a preference instead for encouraging competition and entrepreneurship. Adding to the challenge, photonics is a relatively invisible technology to the public and policy makers since it is often incorporated into the core of complex systems for manufacturing, communications, or healthcare.
Now the time has come for leaders of all organizations that understand the value of photonics to work together in support of the recently launched National Photonics Initiative (NPI). The NPI does not aim to choose winners, but it does seek to raise awareness of the importance of photonics. It is also intended to increase national coordination, and to drive funding and investment in areas critical to U.S. competitiveness and security. The initiative is led by the APS, IEEE Photonics Society, LIA, OSA, and SPIE, and draws support from many people in U.S. industry, government, and academia.

The focus will be on funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields: advanced manufacturing, communications and information technology, defense and national security, energy, and health and medicine. Our colleagues in Europe have already established such a unified voice in Photonics21 ( in preparation for the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research funding program.

The NPI is just beginning its quest to educate, affect public policy and funding, support research, and help develop an effective workforce. You can read much more about it at The leaders of many photonics organizations have stepped into the limelight and it’s time for the rest of the U.S. photonics community to play a part as well.

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