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Research & Development

Princeton to lead an NSF-funded consortium to advance photonics

15 May 2023

Grant to fund planning for a multi-state initiative to advance research in lasers and fiber optics.

A collaboration led by Princeton University, New Jersey, to drive economic and technological advancements in photonics has been awarded a development grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program.

The grant, says Princeton, will lay the groundwork for a multistate collaboration called Advancing Photonics Technologies that aims to advance research, transition discoveries into the economy, and build the region’s technological workforce.

The collaboration includes universities and community colleges, leading photonics companies, statewide economic and workforce development programs, and technology accelerators and incubators that help transition research into startup companies.

The Advancing Photonics Technologies collaboration is one of more than 40 teams across the nation selected to receive one of the first-ever NSF Engines Development Awards, which provide up to two years of funding toward the planning of a multistate initiative to create economic, societal and technological opportunities for their regions. The awards enable the teams to prepare strong proposals for becoming future NSF Engines, which will each have the opportunity to receive up to $160 million to implement their plans.

Princeton University will lead the development-stage collaboration along with co-lead Rowan University, both in New Jersey, with partners throughout neighboring states Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York.

“These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These awardees are part of the fabric of NSF's vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere. They will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of our nation.

“NSF is seeding the future for in-place innovation in communities and to grow their regional economies through research and partnerships. This will unleash ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation.”

CHIPS Act impact

Launched by NSF’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships and authorized by the “CHIPS and Science Act of 2022,” the NSF Engines program aims to accelerate technology development, address societal challenges, and create high-wage jobs.

“Photonics is one of the unseen gems of the New Jersey economy, providing thousands of well-paid jobs and leading global innovation,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “Congratulations to the institutions of higher education, companies, and state agencies that are joining forces on this effort to affirm our state’s longstanding role as a leader in innovation.”

Christopher L. Eisgruber, president of Princeton University, commented, “This initiative unites colleges and universities, startups, and companies to catalyze research, develop new technologies, create jobs and strengthen the economy.” said “Princeton is proud to be part of this National Science Foundation program, which is helping to grow scientific research and technological innovation in every part of our nation.”

The collaboration will be led by principal investigator Craig B. Arnold, the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Princeton’s Vice Dean for Innovation. Arnold’s research expertise spans materials synthesis and processing in areas including advanced manufacturing, energy storage and conversion, and optics and photonics.

“Photonics will play a crucial role in pushing 21st century applications to be cleaner, smarter, and more secure,” Arnold said. “To enable this technology and expand its reach, we aim to grow a robust, diverse photonics workforce that is tightly integrated within an ecosystem of continuous innovation and use-inspired research.”

The collaboration’s co-principal investigator Robert V. Chimenti is a visiting assistant professor and photonics coordinator at Rowan University. Chimenti's research focuses on new laser and spectroscopy applications, with an eye toward developing novel instrumentation for commercialization.

“The mid-Atlantic region has a long history of photonic innovations ranging from the light bulb to the color TV to the modern liquid crystal display, making it the ideal choice for this venture,” said Chimenti. “We have a diverse talent pool, exceptional resources with a high density of companies producing and using photonics technologies and devices, as well as an established academic and technical research ecosystem. In short, we’re at just the right time and place.”

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