From Tom Battley, Executive Director of New York Photonics
Excerpted from the October 22nd edition of The Hill
I am writing in response to Rep. Louise Slaughter’s Oct. 10 op-ed, “Advancing American competitiveness by harnessing the power of light.”
In New York, home of the imaging “Capital of the World,” researchers, engineers and technicians are using optics and photonics, the science and application of light, to develop the next generation of many of the modern-day technologies that make our everyday lives possible. Think fiber optics, smartphone displays, digital cameras and solar energy, to name a few.
As Rep. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) so eloquently points out, great accomplishments have been made in discovering and developing advancements in photonics in New York, yet the United States as a whole has not kept pace with other countries in this fast-growing field. Consequently, our great state and nation have lost our competitive edge, and countless jobs, to our competitors overseas.
I was recently on Capitol Hill educating members of Congress about the National Photonics Initiative, a push by industry, academia and government to raise awareness about photonics and the impact of photonics on our everyday lives; to increase collaboration and coordination among U.S. industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields; and to drive U.S. funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining U.S. competitiveness and national security: in advanced manufacturing, communication and information technology, the fields of defense and national security, energy, and health and medicine.
In national security, photonics makes laser-guided weapons more accurate and provides lasers for missile defense. In energy, photonics provides renewable power sources, as well as optical systems to monitor wells in the oil and gas sector. In health and medicine, photonics is responsible for advances from laser eye surgery to CT scans. In communications and information technology, optics and photonics can continue the advances that have increased the capacity of the Internet by nearly 10,000-fold over the past two decades. And in advanced manufacturing, substantial job growth is possible in new and innovative areas of manufacturing that make use of high-power and low-cost lasers, as well as 3D printing.
In support of these photonics industries must be a well-trained and skilled workforce. Coordination is needed among existing programs across all levels of education, from secondary public school systems through community colleges and universities, along with re-training programs. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education should include a photonics curriculum in high school and at two-year institutions. Photonics-related engineering education programs are also needed, with a focus on interdisciplinary programs that bring mechanical engineering and materials science together with optics and photonics curricula. And, internship and apprenticeship opportunities are necessary to train students before they enter the workforce.
In photonics lies the future of many exciting and innovative technologies that will drive our local and national economy, create jobs and improve the health and safety of our citizen. I second the congresswoman’s call to support the mission of the National Photonics Initiative to make photonics a priority for not only New York, but for the nation.