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30 August 2012

New information and new organization: Opportunity for change in North America

A new report on the U.S. photonics
industry updates a 1998 study.
Governments in Asia, Europe, North America, and elsewhere are finding new ways to prioritize their efforts to support optics technologies and industries and to advance their own national competitiveness and economic success

A recent article in the SPIE Professional magazine surveyed the latest developments around the world. This post on policy in North America is the final part in a series that borrows from the magazine's report and has been edited to reflect the release on 13 August of the U.S. National Academies’ “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation.” The report was commissioned as an update to the National Academies’ "Harnessing Light" report of 1998, credited with inspiring and informing policy strategies around the world following its release.

Photonics in Canada

In Canada earlier this year, the merger of the Canadian Institute for Photonic Innovations (CIPI) and the Canadian Photonics Consortium (CPC) led to the establishment of the Canadian Photonic Industry Consortium (CPIC), an industry-led photonics knowledge exchange. Its mission is to help end-users of photonics technologies, industry, universities, and institutions network to accelerate economic growth and innovation.

While the new industry association will not directly fund research, CPIC has an agreement with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to conduct the initial vetting of government funding proposals to accelerate the NSERC review and approval process in hopes of improving the technology-transfer rate in Canada.

“We will ensure that the projects fit within NSERC’s intellectual property rules and look at how the proposals can be strengthened,” said Robert Corriveau, executive director of CPIC. “This will speed up the approval process and increase their chances of success.”

There are an estimated 450 photonics companies in Canada employing approximately 20,300 people.

Canada’s proposed budget for 2012 increases funding for R&D by small- and medium-sized companies and commits $37 million a year to the granting councils to enhance their support for industry-academic research partnerships.

Harnessing light, essential technologies

The United States hasn’t seen the same level of organized and sustained support for optics and photonics as other countries, though there is hope that might change with the release (13 August) of the new National Academies study.

The new study is titled “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation,”  and updates the 1998 National Research Council study, “Harnessing Light: Optical Science and Engineering for the 21st Century.” The new report identifies several “grand challenges” and recommends actions for the development and maintenance of global leadership in the photonics industry.

Significant among those is the recommendation for a high-level National Photonics Initiative (NPI). The committee co-chairs, Alan Willner and Paul McManamon, having been outlining just how that would look in a series of post-release briefings starting with the debut briefing on 15 August before an overflow audience in the exhibition hall during SPIE Optics and Photonics at the San Diego Convention Center.

Willner described the NPI as a high-level framework engaging industry, government, and academia in significant roles, driven by “vision, strategy and money.” He said that long-term commitment to financial backing is key, and that government should “provide the glue,” with the entire community, from research to development, engaged and committed for the long-term. (See the SPIE.tv video presentation for more.)

Forward progress in the Century of the Photon!

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