For decades the United States has been the envy of the entire world in terms of R&D in high-tech fields, including optics and photonics for communications. For decades the most prestigious international journals, conferences, and professional societies have been based in the United States. Many of the most impactful R&D advances came from the U.S. industrial laboratories (e.g., AT&T Bell Laboratories, Corning, RCA Sarnoff Labs, IBM), with several Nobel Prizes as well. The U.S. university system was unrivaled, with student researchers flocking to the United States from countries around the world. The combined R&D in optics from corporate laboratories and federally funded university labs set the bar high in terms of quality and quantity. Critical advances were made in the United States, including low-loss fibers, semiconductor lasers, optical amplifiers, and information theory.
The scenario has changed somewhat in the past 20 years. In general, corporate laboratories no longer enjoy steady, long-term funding, and the main sources of university research funding have not grown at a pace consistent with that in the rest of the world. The main sources of university funding in communications and information processing, such as the NSF and the Department of Defense (DOD), tend to fund a relatively small percentage of new proposals, particularly with a 10-year focus.
In the area of optical research for information processing, U.S. efforts are generally comparable in size to efforts in Europe and Japan in the emerging technologies for optics in information processing, but the United States has no overall lead against these research competitors. The United States lacks the larger European framework projects that help tie together a broad range of players from academia to industry. Both Europe and Japan are making substantial investments in silicon photonics technology research now.
Trends in terms of the United States in relation to the rest of the world include the following:
• Research funding. Nations all over the world view the United States as a benchmark in terms of research funding. In order for countries to compete, many nations focus on specific, strategic areas in which to invest in long-term photonics research. The United States tends not to make such strategic, long-term “bets.” The effect is that in any given area, the United States will share leadership with, and perhaps be surpassed by, research in specific countries. High-speed communications in Germany, integrated photonics in Japan, and access technologies in China are all examples of thrusts centered in various countries.
• Professors. Several nations have invested in hiring distinguished researchers to prominent, well-paid professorial positions. Oftentimes, these researchers