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Will cuts in science funding undermine economic boosts from photonics industry?

Researchers and engineers in optics and photonics are watching closely, along with scientists from other disciplines, as governments look at serious budget cuts.

Everything is on the table, but of major concern is whether science and technology will suffer a disproportionate share of these budget cuts.

Ron Driggers
“Science and technology make an easy target for government policy makers, since frequently these fields are not seen to have an immediate effect on any individual’s livelihood,” notes Ron Driggers, Editor of Optical Engineering and a superintendent of the optical sciences division of the U.S. Naval Research Lab.

However, he stresses, science and technology have a dramatic long-term effect on everyone’s livelihood, driving the economy and changing our lives for the better in many ways.

“Science and technology literally create entire industries, and one result is jobs,” he asserts. “The creation and maintenance of the associated jobs more than repays the initial investment in science and technology via more government tax revenue and less demand for entitlement expenditures.”

Here are a just few of Ron’s examples:

● The airplane, which led to an entire airline industry in which large company revenues top US$30 billion and thousands of workers are employed.

● The laser, for which the market is predicted to be in excess of US$7 billion in 2011.

● The global positioning system (GPS), with a predicted devices industry worth US$75 billion by 2013.

As big as these numbers are, Ron notes, they are dwarfed by the wealth created in the semiconductor and computer industries enabled by the invention of the transistor and the integrated circuit.

While the investments made by governments in research and development are usually small compared to the investments made by industry, government funding typically is for basic science. This basic science is the basis for the applied research in science and technology that builds future economies.

If there is no basic research now, then there will not be new technologies and industries springing from applied research in the future.

The story is straightforward, but it is not always obvious to policy makers grappling with budget shortages and balancing the many and varied needs their countries face.

Help them out – take a few minutes to tell your governmental representatives why funding science and technology is important for a strong future.

How will you tell the story to your legislators or parliamentarians?

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