Scientific Societies Unite to Announce National Photonics Initiative

NPI will work to increase photonics R&D, grow the U.S. economy, improve national security

By Emily Pappas

air force airman with photonics laser module

Photo by Tech Sgt. Andrew Rodie /U.S. Air Force

An Air Force Airman uses a scope to align a photonics laser module with a receiver.

The American Physical Society (APS), IEEE Photonics Society, Laser Institute of America (LIA), the Optical Society (OSA), and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, recently announced the launch of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), an alliance seeking to unite industry, academia and government experts to identify and advance areas of photonics critical to maintaining U.S. competitiveness and national security.

“Life without photonics is almost unimaginable. From the moment you wake up to the alarm on your smartphone, to swiping your credit card to pay for coffee, to logging into your computer and connecting with the world through the Internet, photonics makes it possible,” said OSA CEO Elizabeth Rogan. “The NPI will work to advance photonics in the areas that are most critical to the U.S., like improving the economy, creating jobs, saving lives and sparking innovation for future generations.”

Photonics generates, controls and detects light to advance manufacturing, robotics, medical imaging, next-generation displays, defense technologies, biometric security, image processing, communications, astronomy and much more. Photonics forms the backbone of the Internet, guides energy exploration and keeps soldiers safe with night vision and physiological feedback on the battlefield.

In 1998, the National Research Council released a report, “Harnessing Light,” which presented a comprehensive overview of the potential impact of photonics on major industry sectors. In response, several worldwide economies moved to advance their already strong photonics industries. The United States, however, did not develop a cohesive strategy. As a result, the U.S. lost its competitive advantage in a number of cutting-edge technologies as well as thousands of U.S. jobs and companies to overseas markets.

“The EU, Germany, Korea, Taiwan, and China all recognize the importance of photonics, and have taken action,” said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. “The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, has long supported photonics, but more photonics research is needed to maintain our national security in the face of non-traditional threats. The time is now for the U.S. to make the right investments in the crucial capabilities of the future.”

In 2012, the National Research Council released “Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation” that called for a national photonics initiative to regain U.S. leadership in key photonic-driven fields. In response to that call, the NPI was established.

“The NPI offers an opportunity for us to show how critical it is for federally funded research to flourish in this country,” said Kate Kirby, executive officer of APS. “So many of the technologies that we use have come from the results of basic research funded by the federal government.”

For more information about the NPI, please visit:

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