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.?

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