Key Recommendation: The committee recommends that the federal government develop an integrated initiative in photonics (similar in many respects to the National Nanotechnology Initiative) that seeks to bring together academic, industrial, and government researchers, managers, and policy makers to develop a more integrated approach to managing industrial and government photonics R&D spending and related investments.

This recommendation is based on the committee’s judgment that the photonics field is experiencing rapid technical progress and rapidly expanding applications that span a growing range of technologies, markets, and industries. Indeed, in spite of the maturity of some of the constituent elements of photonics (e.g., optics), the committee believes that the field as a whole is likely to experience a period of growth in opportunities and applications that more nearly resembles what might be expected of a vibrantly young technology. But the sheer breadth of these applications and technologies has impeded the formulation by both government and industry of coherent strategies for technology development and deployment.

A national photonics initiative would identify critical technical priorities for long-term federal R&D funding. In addition to offering a basis for coordinating federal spending across agencies, such an initiative could provide matching funds for industry-led research consortia (of users, producers, and material and equipment suppliers) focused on specific applications, such as those described in Chapter 3 of this report. In light of near-term pressures to limit the growth of or even reduce federal R&D spending, the committee believes that a coordinated initiative in photonics is especially important.

The committee assesses as deplorable the state of data collection and analysis of photonics R&D spending, photonics employment, and sales. The development of better historical and current data collection and analysis is another task for which a national photonics initiative is well suited.

Key Recommendation: The committee recommends that the proposed national photonics initiative spearhead a collaborative effort to improve the collection and reporting of R&D and economic data on the optics and photonics sector, including the development of a set of North American Industry Classification System (-NAICS) codes that cover photonics; the collection of data on employment, output, and privately funded R&D in photonics; and the reporting of federal photonics-related R&D investment for all federal agencies and programs.

It is essential that an initiative such as the proposed national photonics initiative be supported by coordinated measurement of the inputs and outputs in the sector such that national policy in the area can be informed by the technical and economic realities on the ground in the nation.

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