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.

Healthcare.

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?

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