National initiative aims to drive critical photonics technologies in US

May 23, 2013
Nashua, NH--The National Photonics Initiative (NPI) has been launched to raise awareness of photonics, increase national coordination, and drive funding and investment in areas critical to US competitiveness and security.

Nashua, NH--The National Photonics Initiative (NPI) has been launched to raise awareness of photonics, increase national coordination, and drive funding and investment in areas critical to US competitiveness and security. The initiative is led by the APS, IEEE Photonics Society, LIA, OSA, and SPIE, and draws on wide support from US businesses, government, and academia.

A white paper aimed at policymakers and the general public recommends funding and investment in five key fields: advanced manufacturing, communications and information technology, defense and national security, energy, and health and medicine.

Download the 33-page white paper: Lighting the Path to a Competitive, Secure Future (

The overall recommendations of the NPI include:
- Drive funding and investment in the five areas of photonics critical to maintaining US competitiveness and national security
- Develop federal programs that encourage greater collaboration between US industry, academia, and government labs
- Increase investment in education and job training programs to reduce the shortage of technically skilled workers
- Expand federal investments supporting university and industry collaboration to develop new manufacturing methods that incorporate photonics
- Team with US industry to review international trade practices impeding free and fair trade.

Specific Recommendations for Five Key Fields

Advanced manufacturing:
- Invest in the development and production of high-power laser technology and systems to advance manufacturing in the United States.

- Invest in a coordinated national effort to improve our understanding of laser-material interaction for applications in heavy industry and manufacturing for material processing of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, and glass.

- Invest in adopting higher-resolution technology for additive manufacturing.

- Create applied research and development institutions funded by public-private investment dedicated to photonics manufacturing innovations that are driven by industry needs.

- Develop two-year certificate and undergraduate degree programs in design and laser materials processing.

- Incorporate photonics technician training and certificate programs into existing education and retraining programs such as those for veterans.

Communications & IT
- Renew and increase federal funding for future generations of technology, with programs that allow access by researchers in publicly traded companies, private companies, and universities.

- Uphold fair trade practices to ensure that intellectual property is protected in the telecommunications equipment market.

- Develop a healthy supply chain of trusted components and equipment for the US infrastructure such as a domestic commercial-grade facility for fabricating integrated photonics components, co-founded by industry and the government or secure US-based trusted sources for complete optical telecommunications systems.

- Increase state and federal funding for practical training and education in optics and photonics, and funding for NSF’s National Center for Optics and Photonics Education.

- Re-evaluate US work visa policy so US employers attract and retain the best-qualified and trained employees, and create and improve training opportunities at home to better train and thus employ US residents.

- Adopt policies that promote the installation of next generation broadband infrastructure throughout US communities.

Defense & Security
- Significantly increase investment in all elements of HEL systems and the full spectrum of high-energy laser technologies, and set a national vision for strategic and tactical high-power laser system implementation.

- Develop continuous, infrared gigapixel sensors with the ability to image in 2D and 3D very wide areas at night or day in high resolution.

- Establish a photonic foundry service tailored to the needs and volumes of the military, which are much more demanding than most commercial specs.

- Invest in research to develop low-cost packaging solutions in the United States for photonics integrated circuits.

- Establish a national vision for R&D in photonics technologies to reinvigorate our science- and technology-driven defense workforce.

- Increase funding for federal solar R&D supporting collaboration among industry, academia, and national labs to work on longer term, but commercializable, products.

- Create a permanent industrial advisory committee for the DOE solar initiative to assist in documenting industry needs and to aid in developing the national strategy and position.

- Establish a sustained road map for solar energy among industry, academia, national labs, and government with an emphasis on performance, cost, and market trajectories.

- Increase federal funding for university-based basic materials R&D in support of the US SSL industry.

- Increase federal funding for industry-based manufacturing technology development that addresses the big-issue problems of SSL.

- Create a road map for sensing applications that includes fiber and free-space technologies covering all aspects of energy monitoring. The activity should be sponsored by an industry-based consortium to ensure relevance to near-term and longer-term technology needs.

- Create an industry-led collaboration similar to the DeepStar program but supported by government investments that is focused on early-stage fiber and free-space sensing technology development. The program should be designed to foster innovation and R&D while reducing the financial risk of individual participants.

Health & Medicine
- Prioritize development of imaging standards and software methods that automate the extraction, quantification and identification of regions of interest in multidimensional data sets.

- Fund the development of affordable, automated point-of-care diagnostic devices in areas of major medical needs such as infectious diseases, internal traumatic injuries and cardiac arrest, and invest in the development and enhancement of existing optical technologies suitable for innovative medical applications.

- Invest in the creation of an information technology infrastructure for sharing large amounts of medical and clinical data (e.g., well-annotated medical images) and research into algorithms and software for analyzing such data.

- Allocate research funds for advanced photonics research as an integral part of programs relying on novel measurements for the advancement of understanding human biology, optogenetics, and disease.

- Increase collaboration between US government, regulatory agencies, and industry to create an accelerated process for advanced clinical trial designs for medical instrumentation and supporting clinical trials of promising new cost-savings methods.

- Increase medical expert and industry engagement in the evaluation of research proposals, and use their recommendations for medical applications as motivation and guidance for next steps in the commercialization process (e.g., translational research or Small Business Innovation Research program funding).

- Expand investment in multidisciplinary centers, such as universities with medical and engineering schools, at which critical developments that combine discoveries in multiple fields can be efficiently fostered.

About the Author

Conard Holton | Editor at Large

Conard Holton has 25 years of science and technology editing and writing experience. He was formerly a staff member and consultant for government agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and engineering companies such as Bechtel. He joined Laser Focus World in 1997 as senior editor, becoming editor in chief of WDM Solutions, which he founded in 1999. In 2003 he joined Vision Systems Design as editor in chief, while continuing as contributing editor at Laser Focus World. Conard became editor in chief of Laser Focus World in August 2011, a role in which he served through August 2018. He then served as Editor at Large for Laser Focus World and Co-Chair of the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar from August 2018 through January 2022. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, with additional studies at the Colorado School of Mines and Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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