Report Outlines Areas for Federal Investment and Cooperation in Optics and Photonics

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Publication date: 
9 May 2014

A report outlining opportunities for investment and cooperation in applied optics and photonics research was prepared by the Fast-Track Action Committee on Optics and Photonics (FTAC-OP) and presented to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Physical Sciences Subcommittee of the Committee on Science, National Science and Technology Council.  The report, “Building a Brighter Future with Optics and Photonics” is aimed at highlighting research and capability opportunities and describes a need for “affordable and convenient access to experimental fabrication facilities to test new device designs, fabrication approaches, and materials.”

FTAC-OP is comprised of representatives from 14 federal agencies including the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Energy as well as the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the White House Offices of Management and Budget and Science and Technology Policy.  The purpose of FTAC-Op was to “identify cross cutting areas of optics and photonics research” and “to prioritize these research areas for possible federal investment” as well as to set long term goals for research in optics and photonics. 

The National Photonics Initiative is being led by a coalition of scientific societies, including the American Physical Society and the Optical Society, both Member Societies of the American Institute of Physics.  NPI also includes IEEE Photonics, the Laser Institute of America, and SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics.  NPI seeks to raise awareness about the impact of photonics and optics; increase coordination and cooperation between industry, government and academia; and advocate for funding and investments in photonics.

The report describes optics and photonics as enabling technologies for industries including computing, manufacturing, energy, healthcare, defense, and communications and describes how advances in these fields have contributed to economic growth, increased productivity, created new industries and applications for technology. 

Report recommendations in the area of research opportunities include “support fundamental research in innovative biophotonics to enable advances in quantitative imaging; systems biology, medicine, and neuroscience; in vivo validation of biomarkers that advance medical diagnosis, prevention and treatment; and more efficient agriculture production”; “develop optics and photonics technologies that operate at the faintest light levels”; “advance the science of light propagation and imaging through scattering, dispersive, and turbulent media”; and “explore the limits of low energy, attojoule-level photonic devices for application to information processing and communications.” Report recommendations to improve capabilities in optics and photonics include determining the “need of academic researchers and small business innovators for access to affordable domestic fabrication capabilities to advance the research, development, manufacture, and assembly of complex integrated photonic-electronic devices”; “promote research and development to make compact, user-friendly light sources, detectors, and associated optics and exotic wavelengths accessible to academia, national laboratories, and industry”; and ”develop and make available optical and photonic materials critical to our Nation’s research programs.”     

Also included in the report is a discussion of grand challenge questions from the National Research Council Report “Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation.”  “How can the U.S. optics and photonics community invent technologies for the next factor-of-100 cost-effective capacity increase in optical networks?” Other questions address “seamless integration of photonics and electronics,” the development of optical technology for use by the U.S. military, increased resolution in optics manufacturing, and “how can U.S. energy stakeholders achieve cost parity across the nation’s electric grid for solar power versus new fossil-fuel-powered electric plants” by 2020? 

The report links FTAC-OP recommendations with national priorities including advanced manufacturing, big data and those outlined in the BRAIN Initiative and Bioeconomy Blueprint as well as the Materials Genome Initiative.

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