The three greatest assets the US wields in the world’s high-tech economy are our world-leading research universities, the commercialisation engine of the free market, and a government who supports basic science. Today’s political landscape has, however, made the future of federal investments in research and development unpredictable. Intelligently aligning these assets is now essential with competition around the world growing more innovative every day.
This alignment in the optics and photonics (O&P) community is the National Photonics Initiative (NPI) – an answer to the primary recommendation in the recent Essential Technologies report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
Our colleagues across the Atlantic have already established a unified voice called Photonics21 in preparation for the European Union’s Horizons 2020 research funding program. In a similar vein, the NPI will be industry driven and recommend a cohesive message about funding priorities and regulatory issues to government. Additionally, the NPI plans to be a vehicle for facilitating high-level collaborative research endeavors and effective workforce development programs.
The NPI advisory committee consists of member and staff representatives from five professional societies (OSA, SPIE, IEEE, LIA, and APS) and the working-groups it has assembled represent the five O&P industry sectors that can have the greatest impact on the economy.
These groups are rallying under the flag of this new initiative that, according to Advisory Committee Chair, Tom Baer, aims to “create an infrastructure for ongoing industry road-mapping, economic impact analysis, and improved interface between industry, academia, and government funding agencies.”
The first step was to hand industry the reigns of the initiative and start a conversation at the NAS-hosted launch event in Washington, DC on 28 February. More than 100 representatives from industry, academia, and federal agencies broke into the five working-groups to identify major barriers to progress (technological and regulatory), efficient methods for federal/private research investment, and workforce training needs.
The second step, for release in April, is to study and prioritize these recommendations into a report that will stand as ammunition in political advocacy, as well as a framework for how the NPI will serve the community.
All around the world, industries and governments are recognizing the exceptional return on investment O&P technologies provide both economically and to our quality of life. It is time that we in the US align our efforts and leverage our position as a diversified leader in advanced technology. A National Photonics Initiative may be just what we need to meet the challenges of economic stability in the 21st century.
About the author:
Matt Weed, a member of the NPI Advisory Committee and OSA’s Public Policy Committee, is a doctoral candidate in optics at CREOL, the College of Optics & Photonics at the University of Central Florida.