AIM Photonics eyes stability, 7-year funding pact with feds

Operators of a Rochester-based photonics initiative say they are working to secure a seven-year deal with “significant” federal funding to sustain operations.

The expectation has been that support from the U.S. Department of Defense would continue. But how much, and for how long, has been an open — an increasingly pressing — question.

“Getting this deal done fairly soon is really important,” said Ed White, associate vice president with the initiative’s Testing Assembly and Packaging facility located on Lake Avenue. “We don’t want an interruption in the operation.”

The funding news could help to project greater stability as candidate interviews begin for a new leader of the institute. Former CEO Michael Cumbo left for a more lucrative job with a private-equity firm in January, after just seven months at the helm.

Messages sent to Department of Defense were not immediately returned.

‘In a growth mode’

The American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics is part of a network of 16 institutes nationally created under former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Integrated photonics is a developing industry that uses photons (light) to do the work of electrons, only much more quickly and efficiently — with applications ranging from self-driving cars to food safety.

The goal of AIM Photonics is to accelerate growth of the industry nationwide by knocking down common barriers in research and product development with key facilities at the Albany Nanotech Complex and with the research hub and headquarters in Rochester.

“We are in a growth mode, both in terms of the number of customers and what we do for the customers,” White said. “The complexity of the jobs are growing.”

At the Rochester facility that means continuing to develop methods to make the technology work on an ever-smaller scale to meet industry demand. How small? One effort would allow a laser to be attached to silicon chips that are 300 microns in diameter, the equivalent of three human hairs.

Funding outlook

An agreement on continued federal funding should be final this summer. And there also have been initial conversations with the state about continued funding, White said.

There is no definitive deadline for hiring.

The project came with an initial federal commitment of $110 million when announced by then-Vice President Joe Biden in July 2015. New York state pledged $250 million, with other private sources expected to round out the $600 million undertaking.

The goal was to be self-sustaining in five years.

Federal dollars were to be spent with projects completed by the end of 2020, but the pandemic afforded some extension. There also has been additional federal funding provided. It was not immediately clear how much.

On the state side, nearly all the allocation has been committed, but there is “a ways to go” before that money is exhausted, White said.

“We are looking to continue to be supported by government,” White said, “but we do have an objective to get closer to a self-sustaining entity. I can’t say right now whether we will ever be totally self-sustaining.”

Original Source: Democrat & Chronicle

 

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New York Photonics is a not-for-profit organization founded to promote and enhance the New York State optics, photonics and imaging industry by fostering the cooperation of business, academia and government.

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