Date:  Aug. 13, 2012




Optics and Photonics Research Priorities, Grand Challenges Presented in New Report; National Initiative Recommended to Lead Collaborative Effort


WASHINGTON — A new report from the National Research Council identifies research priorities and grand challenges to fill gaps in optics and photonics, a field that has the potential to advance the economy of the United States and provide visionary directions for future technology applications.  The report recommends that the federal government develop a "National Photonics Initiative" to bring together academia, industry, and government to steer federal research and development funding and activities.


"Much is unknown when pursuing basic optical science and its transition to engineering and ultimately to products, but the rewards can be great," said Alan Willner, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report.  "There are a number of opportunities that could change our daily lives."


"People do not think of Google as an optics company, but a typical Google data center has more than a million lasers in it," said Paul McManamon, technology director of the Ladar and Optical Communication Institute at the University of Dayton and committee co-chair.  "The Internet example is only one case where work in optics and photonics may be a small part of the money invested in research, but is a critical enabler for high-tech businesses and jobs."


The committee named five grand challenges facing the nation that can be addressed with advances in optics and photonics technology.  The first is to keep up the pace of technological achievement established in previous decades.  Others include improved military surveillance and missile defense, achieving cost parity for solar power versus fossil fuel across the country's electrical grid, reaching seamless integration of photonics and electronics at the chip level, and developing optical sources and imaging tools to support increased resolution in manufacturing.


Eight particular areas of technological application are discussed in separate chapters: communications, information processing, and data storage; defense and national security; energy; health and medicine; advanced manufacturing; advanced photonic measurements and applications; strategic materials for optics; and displays.  Each chapter reviews progress that has occurred since the 1998 National Research Council report Harnessing Light: Optical Science and Engineering for the 21st Century, as well as the technological opportunities that have risen from recent advances in optical science and engineering.  The report recommends actions for the development and maintenance of global leadership in photonics-driven industries, including both near-term and long-range goals, likely participants, and responsible agents of change. 


A National Photonics Initiative will help manage the breadth of rapidly expanding applications of photonics technologies, the report says, allowing both government and industry to form coherent strategies for technology development and deployment.  The recommended initiative should also spearhead a collaborative effort to improve the collection and reporting of research, development, and economic data on this sector.


"The impact of optics and photonics on U.S. technology leadership is substantial; this is a critical reason to support a National Photonics Initiative," said McManamon.  "Optics and photonics facilitates many technology areas and is therefore critical to U.S. high-tech competitiveness.  A National Photonics Initiative will ensure that we make full use of these technologies."


The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation; Army Research Office; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Microsystems Technology Office and Defense Sciences Office; National Institute of Standards and Technology; U.S. Department of Energy's Basic Energy Sciences and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy divisions; International Society for Optics and Photonics; Optical Society of America; and Air Force Office of Scientific Research.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.



Lorin Hancock, Media Relations Officer

Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail


Pre-publication copies of Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

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Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Board on Manufacturing and Engineering Design


Division on Policy and Global Affairs

Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy


Committee on Harnessing Light: Capitalizing on Optical Science Trends and

Challenges for Future Research


Paul McManamon (co-chair)

Technology Director

Ladar and Optical Communication Institute

University of Dayton

Dayton, Ohio


Alan E. Willner (co-chair)

Professor of Electrical Engineering

Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering

Viterbi School of Engineering

University of Southern California

Los Angeles


Rod C. Alferness1

Chief Scientist

Alcatel-Lucent (retired), and

Richard A. Auhll Professor and Dean

University of California

Santa Barbara


Thomas M. Baer

Executive Director

Photonics Research Center

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.


Joseph Buck

Vice President of Program Development

Boulder Nonlinear Systems

Lafayette, Colo.


Milton M. Chang

Managing Director

Incubic Management LLC

Los Altos Hills, Calif.


Constance J. Chang-Hasnain

John R. Whinnery Chair Professor

Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

University of California



Charles Maurice Falco

Chair of Condensed Matter Physics, and

Professor of Optical Sciences and Physics

College of Optical Sciences

University of Arizona



Erica R. Fuchs

Assistant Professor

Department of Engineering and Public Policy

Carnegie Mellon University



Waguih S. Ishak

Division Vice President and Director

Corning West Technology Center

Corning Inc.

Palo Alto, Calif.


Prem Kumar

AT&T Professor of Information Technology

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department

Northwestern University

Evanston, Ill.


David A.B. Miller1,2

W.M. Keck Foundation Professor of Electrical Engineering

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.


Duncan T. Moore1

Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship, and

Rudolf and Hilda Kingslake Professor of Optical Engineering

The Institute of Optics

Rochester, N.Y.


Edward I. Moses1,+   

Principal Associate Director

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Livermore, Calif.

David C. Mowery

Professor of New Enterprise Development

Walter A. Haas School of Business

University of California



N. Darius Sankey

Director of Portfolio Strategy

Intellectual Ventures



Edward White


Edward White Consulting

Webster, N.Y.




Erik Svedberg

Study Director


1          Member, National Academy of Engineering

2          Member, National Academy of Sciences

+          Resigned