SPIE CEO calls for action on national photonics initiative

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SPIE CEO Dr Eugene Arthurs has called for action on the national photonics initiative (NPI) set out in the US National Academies' report, Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation, warning that other countries were increasing their investment.

Speaking at Photonics West, Arthurs cited other countries' high level government support for their industries and pointed to a variety of wider societal trends that indicated photonics would be a key technology by 2020.

European countries, according to Irish born Arthurs, are taking photonics very seriously as the industry has been identified as one of the five key technologies for the future by the European Union (EU). European industry is expected to invest $30 billion in years to come and the EU is funding photonics as part of its multi-billion euro, seven-year Horizon 2020 research and development (R&D) programme that begins in 2014.

Society trends expecting to favour photonics as an industry of the future include, the growth of OLED lighting into a $8 billion market by 2020; the expansion of laser assisted magnetic storage devices; 3D printing; very wide super high-definition and 3D televisions; electronics manufacturing in general; and defence and security including short range missile defence and drones.

To ensure the US photonics industry thrives with these new opportunities, as well as the NPI, Arthur said that better industry data was needed, 'to identify the barriers for the industry to overcome them'. Arthurs also highlighted the medium term threat for photonics R&D that the expected 1 March automatic US government spending cuts represented. Those cuts are legally mandated if the US government cannot agree a new budget.

SPIE, Laser Institute of America, IEEE Photonics Society, American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America (OSA) will be holding an event on 28 February to highlight the National Academies' report's recommendations. The report's main recommendation is for the NPI, which it describes as bringing together academic, industrial and government researchers, and policy makers, to develop a more integrated approach to managing industrial and government photonics R&D spending and related investments. The report was produced by the US National Academies' project, Harnessing light: capitalising on optical science trends and challenges for future research

The US National Academies' project that produced the report was supported by funding from the US Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the US National Science Foundation; the National Institute for Standards and Technology; US Army Research Office; US government's Department of Energy; the Air Force Office of Scientific Research; National Research Council; and OSA and SPIE.