Member News - 27 August, 2012

Industry Member News

27 August, 2012

Industry News

OSA Commends Landmark National Academy of Sciences Report on Enabling Nature of Optics

Report highlights role of optical science and engineering in technological and economic growth

The Optical Society (OSA) recently applauded the release of a U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on Harnessing Light report – Optics & Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation – discussing the current state of optical sciences and goals for the future. The study, which is a follow up to a similar report published in 1998, identifies the technological and economic opportunities the science has enabled, assesses trends in market needs, gives examples of where progress in photonics innovation has translated into economic benefits, and makes recommendations for future research and policies that are intended to advance the optics and photonics discipline.

“Optics is everywhere – from internet cables and computer chips, to solar panels and LED lighting and displays, to life-saving medical imaging devices and tools for advanced manufacturing. It solves problems, enables technological innovation and improves lives,” said OSA CEO Elizabeth Rogan. “This report lays out a specific vision for how optics and photonics technologies drive innovation and economic growth in areas as diverse as defense, biotechnology, communications, and manufacturing. OSA applauds the committee for their thorough work and forward-looking recommendations in this landmark study.”

Report Highlights

The NAS report examined the use of optics and photonics in seven content areas – communications, information processing and data storage; defense and national security; energy; health and medicine; advanced manufacturing; and strategic materials – focusing on the enabling nature of optics and its role in facilitating economic growth. The authors also made a number of specific recommendations on how the U.S. can best capitalize on the opportunities optics and photonics provides including:

  • Creating a National Photonics Initiative that brings together public and private partners to develop an integrated approach to managing industrial and government investments.

  • Positioning the U.S. as a leader in optical technologies for global data center business, as demand for capacity and faster interconnects grows.

  • Developing new biomedical technologies to improve areas such as immune system cell measurement and pharmaceutical safety and effectiveness.

  • Developing additive manufacturing technology and implementation, enabling a greater capacity for custom manufacturing.

  • Encouraging and supporting small U.S. companies to address market opportunities for applying optics and photonics research advances in order to create jobs.

“This report will serve as a vital tool in making the case for sustained investments in and adoption of optical science and technology worldwide, as it provides specific illustrations of the technological and economic value of optics and photonics in a variety of sectors,” said OSA Public Policy Committee Chair Gregory Quarles of B.E. Meyers & Company. “For example, the report notes that $4.9 billion worth of laser sales enabled $7.5 trillion of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2009 and 2010. These types of statistics reinforce the true worth of optics and photonics technology.”

OSA Events to Discuss Findings

On Aug. 21, OSA, in conjunction with Stanford University, hosted a free webcast to discuss the report and celebrate its release. Speakers included the following NAS committee members:

  • Alan Willner, University of Southern California, (co-chair)
  • Tom Baer, Stanford Photonics Research Center
  • David Miller, Stanford University
  • Milton Chang, Incubic Management
  • Edward White, Edward White Consulting

A recording of the webinar will be posted on the website in the near future.

In addition, OSA has partnered with four other scientific societies to host events with U.S. policymakers on Sept. 12, including an event and reception with federal agency staff at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building – featuring U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Former Chairman and CEO of Intel Craig Barrett, and representatives from the NAS committee – and a Congressional briefing for lawmakers and their staff on Capitol Hill.

Where is the largest optics cluster?

By Tom Hausken, Senior Advisor

A recent OSA LinkedIn discussion asked, “Which optics cluster is the largest?” The answer may surprise many. In optics, we’re used to thinking of clusters as local trade associations, such as the Florida Photonics Cluster, Arizona’s AOIA, and Colorado’s CPIA. 

But that only counts the formal type of cluster. More common is the informal “de facto” cluster. Examples from other industries include Hollywood, the London financial center, whiskey distilling in Scotland, and automaking in Detroit. Michael Porter is most credited with developing the idea in his 1990 book, “The Competitive Advantage of Nations.”

When viewed this way, Silicon Valley is arguably the largest optics cluster in the U.S. It includes the headquarters of Coherent, Infinera, Juniper Networks, Cisco, JDS Uniphase, Oclaro-Opnext, Newport’s Spectra-Physics operation, Finisar, Omnivision, and many other companies. It also includes optics expertise at Intel (in lithography), Lockheed, Stanford’s photonics center, UC Berkeley, SLAC, NASA Ames, the National Ignition Facility, and many more. Yet, there is no local trade association advocating specifically for optics. 

How geographically large can a cluster be? Up to the distance that one can network in a day’s work and no larger. So, while two people in Palo Alto and Livermore can meet for lunch, it takes a plane to get from Palo Alto to Southern California. A large cluster includes supporting infrastructure, such as hardware and software service companies, and venture capital, PR, and law firms that cater to the technology. 

The largest optics clusters are the big manufacturing centers in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and China. And not because of sheer numbers of people employed, but because entire ecosystems are located there, comprising many layers of the supply chain and the vendors of manufacturing tools used within them. The Hsinchu Science and Industrial Park in Taiwan, for example, includes such giants making or using displays and LEDs as Acer, AU Optronics, and Lite-On, as well as TSMC, ITRI, and two universities. Now 32 years old, the park was modeled after Silicon Valley, including help from Frederick Terman, the Stanford dean who helped create the Stanford Industrial Park that led to the Valley. The Hsinchu cluster is therefore an example of a deliberate, formal plan. 

Clusters don’t have to be large and sprawling to make a difference. Even the phenomenon of gas stations locating near each other, counterproductive as it seems, is an economy of agglomeration related to clusters. A small formal cluster may serve an important role in specialized products, for example, or in R&D. In a flatter, global economy, the collocation of a cluster does not always matter to long term success. For example, ILX Lightwave’s home is in Bozeman, Montana. 

Forming a cluster with real critical mass can take decades to gain real traction. Porter would argue, however, that clusters help deliver the competitive advantage necessary to play in a global market.

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