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America Competes bill calls for photonics innovation

07 Aug 2014

Text of bill calls for partnerships to develop basic research into more mature technologies.

Deep in the text of the America Competes Re-authorization Act 2014, introduced on July 31 by the US Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation chairman Jay Rockefeller, lies an explicit call for funding of optics and photonics technology and public-private collaboration.

The draft bill, which largely covers funding of key scientific agencies including the National Science Foundation, NASA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, mentions optics and photonics specifically in its section on “innovation”.

It states: “It is the sense of Congress that optics and photonics research and technologies promote US global competitiveness in industry sectors, including telecommunications and information technology, energy, healthcare and medicine, manufacturing, and defense.”

The bill goes on to urge the development of optics and photonics technology beyond the research stage through industry collaboration, saying:

“Federal science agencies, industry, and academia should seek partnerships to develop basic research in optics and photonics into more mature technologies and capabilities.”

And it goes on to urge the various federal science agencies to identify optics and photonics-related programs, and to partner with the private sector and academia to exploit knowledge and resources, and to promote innovation.

STEM support
Rockefeller is the senior Democrat senator for the state of West Virginia, and a direct descendent of the oil tycoon John D Rockefeller. He previously authored the 1995 National Technology and Advancement Act, designed to encourage public-private collaborations.

A long-time supporter of research and development and STEM education efforts, Rockefeller said in a press release announcing the latest bill:

“To make sure America continues to lead the world in research, we must provide support for the institutions and agencies at the center of American innovation.”

He added: “The America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2014 supports a wide-range of critical research, while also advancing STEM education and working to put our best research results into the marketplace.”

“Our bill makes it clear that the US is committed not only to investing in research, but also to getting our students excited about STEM so that America can continue to lead the world in innovation.”

Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Ed Markey (D-MA) are co-sponsoring the bill.

Optics and photonics society SPIE welcomed the development, with CEO Eugene Arthurs saying: “We are gratified and delighted to see support for optics and photonics in this legislation. This recognition underscores the vital roles that applications of these technologies play in the lives of people everywhere."

He added: “Senator Rockefeller and the committee are to be commended for this sound inclusion, and the membership and partners of SPIE are grateful for their vision."

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