EU launches Photonics 21 technology platform

More than 200 experts from 16 European member states and 120 companies gathered in Brussels at the beginning of December to launch the European technology platform called “Photonics21.”

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - More than 200 experts from 16 European member states and 120 companies gathered in Brussels at the beginning of December to launch the European technology platform called “Photonics21.” The key players hope this new platform will lead to a strong focus on photonics in the upcoming Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), the European Union’s chief means of funding scientific research and technological development. FP7 takes over from FP6 at the beginning of 2007 and runs until 2013. It incorporates the target of raising European research funding to 3% of the European gross domestic product, two thirds of which should come from industry, by 2010.

Technology platforms play a major role in mobilizing Europe’s research, technological development and innovation efforts. They bring together the key stakeholders, including industry, national, and European public authorities, the academic community, the financial community, consumers, and users. The aim of the platform is to generate and then operate a common vision across Europe for the development of the technologies concerned. The European Photonics Industry Consortium, which represents companies, research institutes, universities, and financial partners, is a key player in Europe and has been involved in setting up Photonics 21.

The general secretary of Photonics 21, Thomas Pearsall, explained the significance of this platform to the photonics industry. “The label ‘Photonics Technology Platform’ is given by the European Commission (EC), and it identifies photonics as a strategic technology for FP7,” said Pearsall. “The Commission expects that the Platform members will propose and execute daring and innovative actions that can be executed by the Commission, National Ministries, private industries, or some combination. This includes developing a Strategic Research Agenda, a kind of roadmap for R&D that will define the key research themes for photonics in FP7, accompanied by a budget. There might also be a new infrastructure in Europe for developing industry in key areas, such as a photonics foundry. And a small business innovation research program to enable SMEs in Europe to develop ideas into commercial technology could be included too. In short, the Platform should be a locomotive of strong leadership.”

Photonics 21 brings together many well-known names in the field of photonics. The CEO of Jenoptik AG, Alexander von Witzleben, is the program’s president. Senior officers from Bookham, Trumpf Lasertechnology, Carl Zeiss, Philips Lighting, Aixtron, and SAGEM are also involved, along with leading academics such as Chris Dainty from the European Optical Society and Paul Lagasse from IMEC. The areas being addressed include information and communication; industrial production; life sciences and health; lighting and displays; metrology and sensors; design and manufacturing of components and systems; and research, education, and training.

The first direct action of the Platform will be to propose a strategic research agenda for FP7. Working groups are developing the agenda, which will be submitted to the EC in March 2006. There is also a symposium in Strasbourg, France at the beginning of April 2006 which will start to add “muscle to the skeleton” of the vision paper used to launch Photonics 21 and to which all interested parties are invited.

According to Pearsall, the European photonics industry currently employs about half a million people, and in 2003 produced 60 billon Euros worth of products and registered 15,000 patents. The group predicts that by 2010 there will be 1.5 million jobs, 250 billion Euros worth of products, and 45,000 patents.

-Bridget K. Marx

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