01 September 2011

Can photonics escape from the 'burning platform'? That's up to you

Committee members (from left) Charles Falco, co-chairs Alan Willner and Paul McManamon, Milton Chang and Erica Fuchs heard comments at SPIE Optics + Photonics.

Economic stability.

High-added-value jobs.

R&D funding.

Workforce for the future.

Industry-academia synergy.


National security.

Energy self-sufficiency.

Technology leadership.

Raising the economic “tide” for the benefit of the entire photonics industry worldwide.

Five members of the National Academies’ Harnessing Light committee who came to SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, California, last week collected these and other concerns from community members at a town hall forum on the committee’s report on the photonics industry in the U.S.

Led by committee co-chairs Paul McManamon and Alan Willner and attended by committee members Erica Fuchs, Milton Chang, and Charles Falco, meeting participants grappled with many challenges confronting the photonics industry.

Not the least of those is quantifying its impact on the national and global economies.

A lack of reliable statistics was cited frequently, as well as the need to decide what constitutes an impact, such as when an optical system is incorporated into a product such as a car -- just what is the scope of the photonics industry?

Among the comments offered during the town hall:

Philip Stahl said that emphasizing the potential for jobs in the title of the final report would help get the attention of congressional leaders – a necessary part in the competition for funding.

M. J. Soileau agreed, saying that a "well-oiled campaign" is needed, with help from industry, “to make the pitch -- show how they contribute." He expressed concern about getting the attention of politicians, and the mismatch of the political timescale with that of technology-based economic growth.

John Greivenkamp, who served on the first committee to create a Harnessing Light report in 1998, pointed out that it's "very hard to sell an enabling technology.” He recommended a brief and easily readable report aimed at policy makers and their staffs who need to understand the importance of the technology but may not have a high level of scientific understanding.

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs was among those who stressed the urgency of the task.

“The last report (published in 1998) was written at a time when we were complacent,”  he said. “Now, we’re on a burning platform. Significant changes in the metrics and incentives for our R&D spending are needed, as are tax changes to favor investment over the timescale of innovation.”

Agree? Disagree? There’s still time to have a say. Comment below, click on this link to take a survey to help inform the committee, or visit the National Academies site to provide feedback to the committee.

What’s at stake for your future plans?

21 August 2011

Survey says ... lasers, detectors, sensors, and imaging lead the list

The Harnessing Light 2 report aims to illustrate the strong economic impact that technologies have on the global economy, both now and in the future.

SPIE is asking the industry in an open survey to rate the importance of photonics technologies, to help inform the committee.

You can see initial results below – but what is your opinion?

Click on this link to take the survey, and share your perspectives with the Harnessing Light committee.

And remember to attend the town hall forum with members of the Harnessing Light committee tomorrow (Monday 22 August) 5:30-7 p.m. at the San Diego Convention Center during SPIE Optics + Photonics -- have your say in person!
Importance of Photonics Topics
Number of responses, per technology

Not Important
Lasers, components, systems
Detectors, sensors
Cameras, imaging, image processing
Fiber optics, communications
LED lighting
Optical materials
Optical systems, components 
Photonics for sustainable energy, environment
Organic photonics
Microtechnologies (MEMS/MOEMS)
Silicon photonics
Quantum optics

09 August 2011

Speak out for photonics and invent the future

So why should you care about a National Academies study on optics and photonics?

Besides the reality that optics and photonics has changed life for us all and has so much more to offer, the answer depends on what you are doing and hope to do in optics and photonics.

Does your future depend on decisions made at the federal, state, or market level (e.g., VCs, banks, or angel investors)?

If Congress, forced to find cuts, decided to slash Department of Energy science funding, NASA funding, National Science Foundation funding, or Department of Defense funding, would it affect you?

Would new financial or trade regulations hurt your job prospects?

Would action on solar energy or advanced lighting speed the transition to a sustainable world?

Hardworking individuals at some of the highest federal levels — Congress and the Administration chief among them — are overwhelmed with appeals for support from a plethora of interest groups, including individuals from the photonics sector on occasion. I have been with a variety of groups of scientists and engineers meeting with Congressional representatives and senators, their staff, or the staff of entities such as the House Science, Space and Technology Committee to argue for support for science and technology (S&T) and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education.

Even with these efforts, we are regularly chastised for our lack of visibility and activity, and — for some reason —frequently contrasted with the beer industry: The two-million-plus S&T community are less visible in Congressional offices than the 60,000 or so energetic representatives of the nation’s beer distributors.

It may be abhorrent to our culture to be the squeaky wheel in political circles (engineers in particular preferring to oil the bearings). But as we look at national belt tightening, it is becoming more important to communicate our value and point out what social economic and security benefits optics and photonics has already brought, and the extraordinary impact to come.

Few of us, and fewer in Congress, ever think about the science and technology behind switching on a light. Our smartphones deliver immediate information over the photonics-powered internet on beautiful displays enabled by processors and memory manufactured by laser lithography. But the lack of appreciation of what we optical scientists and engineers have wrought is a topic for another day.

The multitasking Congressperson or Congressional aide that I hope you will soon visit already will be thinking about the torrent of interest groups flowing by throughout the day, many with very plausible and well-crafted stories. But how many will be able to make an impact with a National Academies study that backs their story, that makes the case?

The Academies were set up to give independent advice to government — a government which is made up mostly of individuals with little scientific background — and helps them see through the clutter of demands and interest groups. This is needed more than ever. National Academies studies help shape policy and help determine funding and investments.

Wise use of our more constrained resources is important to us all. Photonics science and technology should be favored, not because we love it, but because the potential for return on investment — social, financial, scientific, medical, and environmental — is quite extraordinary.

It is crucial that the study capture the contributions and future of photonics. This is a unique opportunity to help the National Academies committee with this formidable task. This is your opportunity to influence — to invent — your future.

That’s why you should care.

What can you do?

Click on this link to take the survey, and share your perspectives with the Harnessing Light committee.

And if you'll be in San Diego later this month, you can share your ideas with the committee in person.

Several members of the Harnessing Light committee will attend a town-hall style forum at SPIE Optics + Photonics in the San Diego Convention Center, 5:30-7 p.m. on Monday 22 August. The public is welcome to attend.

04 August 2011

The future of photonics: How good, how cheap, how much fair play?

The results from the first round of a survey on future challenges for the photonics industry show concerns around quality, costs, respect for intellectual property, and other issues.

The survey results will be offered as input from the community to the National Academies committee that is updating the Harnessing Light study of the photonics industry.

Survey results are posted on the SPIE website, and include a list of what respondents saw as the most important photonics technologies for the future.

Now, it’s your turn.

Click on this link to take the survey, and share your perspectives with the Harnessing Light committee.

And if you'll be in San Diego later this month, you can share your ideas with the committee in person.

Several members of the Harnessing Light committee will attend a town-hall style forum at SPIE Optics + Photonics in the San Diego Convention Center, 5:30-7 p.m. on Monday 22 August. The public is welcome to attend.

01 August 2011

What's your opinion? Photonics industry panel awaits your input

The Harnessing Light update committee is looking for input, as SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs notes in this post's video.

Some of the committee members will also be on hand for a town hall meeting during the SPIE Optics + Photonics symposium in San Diego later this month. The event will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Monday 22 August in the San Diego Convention Center -- see you there!

If you can't attend the San Diego town hall meeting, please post your thoughts in the comment field below, and SPIE will share them with the National Academies' committee. Thank you for doing your part to drive the future of photonics.

09 June 2011

A world of difference: Comparing U.S. efforts in optics and photonics to what's taking place around the globe

The European Union Technology Platform, Photonics21, has just this month released the final edition of its Photonics Vision report, the most recent in a series of reports and strategy documents highlighting the impact of photonics on the economy of the European Union and its potential to address some of the most critical science and technology challenges of our times. Building on the popular notion that the 21st century will be the century of the photon; much as the 20th century was the century of the electron, the reports envisions advancements in photonics leading to many changes, including: dramatically bolstered internet infrastructure, better manufacturing processes, more efficient green technologies and increased disease prevention capacity. In September 2009, following the release of the first Strategic Research Agenda and Photonics in Europe Economic Impact report, the European Commission designated photonics as one of five key enabling technologies for the future prosperity of the European Union. Photonics21 has worked with European industry, government and other stakeholders to outline a photonics research strategy and identifying the measures needed to ensure that Europe's continued leadership in photonics.

The Harnessing Light study committee that I co-chair is currently undertaking a similar task, focused on not only building on the success of the original 1998 Harnessing Light report in establishing optics as an enabling technology impacting a wide range of disciplines, but also on identifying technological opportunities that have arisen from recent advances in optical science and how to translate progress in photonics innovation into competitiveness advantage, workforce needs, and manufacturing infrastructure. Part of this work includes looking at the successes and failures of other countries and clusters. In addition to the EU, Japan, Canada, Germany and even U.S. states have released their own reports. What priorities do we share as we move forward into this new century of the photon?

As our committee continues our work and research, I'd like to hear from you:

• What are the grand challenges of our times?
• What more can be done to establish photonics as a key strategic
technology, as much of the world has already done?
• What can be learned from the strategies of our trade partners?
• What are the barriers to progress in your field?
• Where will the next technology opportunities be found?
• What needs to change to move optics and photonics forward?
• How do we keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S.?

13 May 2011

National Academy Study known as Harnessing Light 2

For several years SPIE has been pushing for an update of the impressive 1998 National Research Council Study, “Harnessing Light. Optical Science and Engineering for the 21st Century”. (You can find the executive summary of this study at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=6404#toc or you can purchase the 339 page study from the National Academy press.)

The study did raise the profile of optics and photonics, but mostly outside the U.S. It did stimulate funding, activity and a series of strategic documents, notably in Germany and from the EU. The new report has a somewhat different emphasis, captured in the “statement of task”.

Much has changed since the work done by the “Committee on Optical Science and Engineering” in the mid 90s, including the infamous bubble that soured much of Wall Street on anything optical. Google hired its first employee in September 1998. The U.S. led in manufacturing solar energy systems and much else.

Optics and photonics has been recognized as an enabling technology, or “A Pervasive Enabler” as described in HL1. As we moved into what some believe is the century of the photon, the social impact has grown; think internet, digital photography, displays of all sizes, optical techniques for genomics, and the much larger (but still insignificant) solar energy. Awareness of photonics has not grown; we remain invisible to the general public.

The original report made a number of recommendations. If they had been acted on, then there would be a different economic pattern for optics and photonics today. We can’t undo the past but now with a new study we can influence the future. What recommendations would you make today?