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Rochester to lead photonics roadmapping effort

09 May 2014

$500,000 awarded through NIST's AMTech program will also help lay foundation for national consortium for photonics manufacturing.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded $500,000 to the University of Rochester to lead the development of a national roadmap for photonics in the US.

Granted through NIST’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology (AMTech) Consortia Program, the money will go to Rochester’s Center for Emerging & Innovative Sciences (CEIS). It is part of a wider $9 million spend by NIST on 19 different areas of industry and also includes awards for photonic systems manufacturing and materials for additive manufacturing.

Rochester will work with the National Photonics Initiative (NPI) and others to forecast the introduction of new technologies and to identify manufacturing challenges that promise to strengthen the competitiveness of photonics manufacturing, if solved.

The move comes amid fears within the US that while it has led the world in developing photonics technologies, its worldwide share of photonics manufacturing has now dropped to less than 10 per cent. The move reflects similar fears that have prompted new funding programs in Europe such as the European Commission’s public-private partnerships.

The NPI, set up by US-based optics and photonics societies including SPIE and The Optical Society in response to the National Academies' report “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for our Nation”, has been lobbying Congress on the importance of the technology to US jobs and national security – with those discussions said by NPI steering committee chair Tom Baer to be progressing “extremely well”.

SPIE’s CEO Eugene Arthurs believes that the Academies’ report called out the “abysmal” state of data on optics and photonics jobs and investment in the US. “Roadmapping should help address this deficit and illuminate the enormous potential the field holds for world-changing innovation and jobs creation,” he said. “The nation has sown seeds with R&D for decades. Let's plan how best to harvest.”

Foundation for national photonics manufacturing consortium
The photonics roadmap to be developed at Rochester will identify some key priorities and lay out a plan for addressing them. Robert L. Clark, senior VP for research at the University of Rochester and also dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said:

"Our Congressional delegation fully understands the importance of bringing photonics manufacturing back to the US, and I want to thank them for their leadership and persistent efforts in support of this initiative. We are excited to be able to lead this effort in partnership with industry and other key stakeholders."

Guided by the roadmap, the CEIS-led group of partners, including the New York Photonics Manufacturing Initiative, will also lay the foundation for a national consortium devoted to advanced manufacturing in photonics. The first steps include setting up a committee drawn from both academia and the industry.

Paul Ballentine, CEIS’ deputy director, said: “By working with domain experts across the country and by leveraging the considerable expertise in the Rochester region, we will help the industry identify key technical barriers that need to be overcome to strengthen photonics manufacturing in the US.”

The upstate New York region has a long history in the field of optics and photonics, and the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics has been a huge influence on both science and industry, spawning key companies such as Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, and Xerox. Some 24,000 people are believed to be employed by more than 100 optics and photonics companies in the local area at present.

Tom Battley, executive director of the New York Photonics cluster group, said: “This is an important opportunity to convene photonics industry clusters from around the country and their manufacturing affiliates. It will strengthen the nation's optics, photonics and imaging industry.”

• For the full list of NIST awards under the AMTech program, click here.

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