IEEE Photonics Society Helped Establish First U.S. Photonics Hub

The Integrated Photonics Institute of Manufacturing Innovation is expected to revolutionize communications, medicine, and defense

14 August 2015

Thanks to the work of the U.S. National Photonics Initiative (NPI), of which the IEEE Photonics Society is a sponsor, a new US $220 million foundry for high-tech optics and photonics research and manufacturing will be headquartered in Rochester, N.Y. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made the announcement on 27 July. Optics and photonics are the science and application of light, and are used in robotics, manufacturing, medical imaging, defense technologies, and more.

The Integrated Photonics Institute of Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI) foundry is designed to be an end-to-end innovation ecosystem focused on chip fabrication, standardized design tools, automated packaging, assembly and testing, and workforce development. It is also expected to demonstrate manufacturing of integrated photonic components and circuits.

The NPI was formed a little more than two years ago to urge the United States to embark on a research program to fill its technological gaps in optics, photonics, and optical engineering. In addition to the Photonics Society, other sponsors include the American Physical Society; the Laser Institute of America; the Optical Society; SPIE, the International Society of Optics and Photonics as well as representatives from industry, academia, and government. It called for expanding federal investment in research, expanding private funding in education and job training programs, and reviewing international trade practices.

“This announcement represents a tremendous achievement for the U.S. photonics community and is the culmination of several years of concerted outreach and promotion efforts by NPI volunteers and staff,” says Dalma Novak, the president of the IEEE Photonics Society. “The creation of the photonics institute will enable new integrated devices and capabilities, and offers enormous potential for new applications of these technologies.”

CLOSING THE GAP

In “IEEE Photonics Society Joins With Others to Shine a Light Onto Its Field,” I reported that China, Germany, Japan, and South Korea have built photonics industries not only to introduce myriad innovations but also to create jobs and strengthen their economies. The United States, once a leader in the field, had lagged behind in investment, training, and job creation. Alarmed by this situation, the NPI issued several reports, including its May 2013 white paper, Lighting the Path to a Competitive, Secure Future. It recommended funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields: advanced manufacturing, communications and information technology, defense and national security, health and medicine, and energy.

The reports got the attention of the highest levels of government. In his budget for fiscal year 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama proposed investing $1 billion to create 15 manufacturing hubs called Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation. Then last October the president announced a competition led by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to select the first Integrated Photonics Institute of Manufacturing Innovation.

The winning proposal came from a consortium comprised of MIT, Rochester Institute of Technology, State University of New York (SUNY) Polytechnic Institute, the University of Arizona, the University of Rochester, and more than 120 photonics businesses. The consortium will receive $110 million in federal funding that must be matched by private funding, which is not expected to be a problem with the caliber of partners involved. The new IP-IMI is expected to revolutionize communications, medicine and defense, in addition to impacting multiple commercial technology sectors across the nation.

“The NPI and its supporting societies are committed to the long-term success of the IP-IMI,” says NPI steering committee chair Alan Willner. “We are prepared to help IP-IMI and, by association, work with the DoD by leveraging the platforms, programs, and resources of our scientific societies.”

In its bid, the Rochester consortium said that more than 24,000 workers from 100 companies based in the area were manufacturing goods for the optics and photonics industry supply chain. New York State also serves as a major development hub for the semiconductor industry with SUNY’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and IBM’s facilities in Yorktown Heights and East Fishkill. The U.S. government anticipates that the IP-IMI will bridge the gap between advanced research and commercial product development, yielding critical defense and telecommunications advances. Another major focus will be on advancing education and workforce development opportunities in hopes of training and positioning the next generation of manufacturers in integrated photonics.

“As a sponsor of the NPI, all of us within the IEEE Photonics Society can be proud of the role it has played in fostering photonic innovation here in the United States,” says Christopher Jannuzzi, the society’s executive director.

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