Last week Rochester once again demonstrated its importance in the optics and photonics global economy by hosting the SPIE Optifab meeting — North America’s largest exhibition of optical manufacturing and testing equipment and technology.
Sponsored by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and co-sponsored by the APOMA (American Precision Optics Manufacturers Association), the event’s collaborators included the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster (RRPC), New York Photonics (NYP), and other local and regional organizations.
Photonics — the science and application of light — is the technology that connects you with friends and family via the internet and your smartphone, enables your doctor to find the exact cells in your body that need treatment, keeps firefighters and soldiers safe, powers sustainable lighting and energy sources, and explores the universe.
And — in places such as Rochester — it creates jobs.
The global optics industry market is estimated at $500 billion, with 1.5 million jobs in the United States directly related to or enabled by optics and photonics technologies.
Rochester — aptly known as the optics, photonics, imaging, and display industry capital of the world — traditionally has been connected with a sizeable share of that. Just last weekend, the University of Rochester had a celebration to recognize the 150 companies started by approximately 115 alumni and faculty from the Institute of Optics.
While still strong, the Rochester OPID industry, like many U.S. tech industries, has been losing market share to countries that are investing more heavily and with more focus.
NYP and SPIE are members of a coalition of scientific and engineering societies leading a National Photonics Initiative (NPI) to help reverse that innovation deficit.
Keeping the momentum going is vital. As Tom Battley, NYP executive director, noted recently, if Rochester loses focus, “the lead we have enjoyed for so many years is ours to lose.”
Stahl is president-elect of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.