The global optics industry's 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.
Photonics-the application of light-is used in technologies including lasers, computer chips, solar-energy panels, sensors and displays. It is found in manufacturing, medicine, defense and security, lighting and more.
"Photonics is actually everywhere," said Eugene Arthurs, CEO of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, which is based in Bellingham, Wash.
Arthurs is leading the National Photonics Initiative, an effort to raise awareness of photonics and increase U.S. funding and investment.
Ways in which Rochester can take advantage of its leadership position in the photonics industry and advance the national effort are to be the topic of discussion at the annual meeting of the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster next month.
The meeting is from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 5 at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Perinton, is slated to give the keynote speech.
The meeting will focus on the National Photonics Initiative and what role the Rochester area should play, officials said. A panel discussion will include:
Stephen Anderson, industry and market strategist for SPIE and former editor-in-chief of Laser Focus World;
Jennifer Clark, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and director of the Center for Urban Innovation in the Ivan Allen College at the Georgia Institute of Technology;
Stephen Fantone, founder and CEO of Optikos Corp. in Massachusetts; and
Duncan Moore, vice provost for entrepreneurship and professor of optics at the University of Rochester.
Arthurs said the goal of the National Photonics Initiative is to show the importance of the photonics industry to those who help fund it.
While other countries, such Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as the European Union, are embracing and supporting the photonics industry, the United States has been cutting capital at the national level, he said.
"It appears the U.S. doesn't want to be a player; it wants to be a customer," Arthurs said.
Elements of photonics are employed in many applications, from night vision goggles and imaging equipment used by the U.S. military to equipment used in human genome research, Arthurs said.
He noted local efforts such as work being done at the UR Laboratory for Laser Energetics and the new Photovoltaic Manufacturing and Technology Development facility being built by SUNY's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. The Albany-based institution is renovating a 57,000-square-foot former Eastman Kodak Co. building in the Canal Ponds Business Park.
Rochester is one of the strongest bases for photonics in the world, Arthurs said, but there is room for its industry to grow.
New York, for example, has done a good job of advancing research in the field, but it falls short in taking that research and translating it into New York-based jobs, Arthurs said.
Thomas Battley, executive director of the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster, agreed that New York has the capabilities to expand its photonics business, though international competition continues to heat up.
"New York State, particularly Rochester and Corning, have enjoyed pre-eminence in this industry for a century, and more recently Albany Nanotech has added to that strength," Battley said. "The New York photonics cluster, led largely by Rochester companies and researchers, competes at international conferences with nations and consortia of nations. Let me repeat that: One state, New York, competes with nations."
Other areas have hired workers from Rochester to create their own photonics ecosystems, Battley said, and the Rochester area needs to focus on growing the industry lead it has traditionally had.
"The lead we have enjoyed for so many years is ours to lose," he said.
For more information on the RRPC meeting, go to www.rrpc-ny.org.
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