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John Mica: "Let's be laser-focused on photonics for the future"

From OrlandoSentinel.com

Let's be laser-focused on photonics for the future
By John Mica Guest columnist
August 20, 2013

How many times you have heard a public official promise to be ''laser-focused on creating jobs?" The next time you hear that, ask him or her to "focus like a laser on lasers," and other advances in the field of photonics that support American jobs.

Photonics is the science and application of light. Whether you're using the computer, watching television, driving a car or texting on your smartphone, photonics makes modem-day conveniences possible. Photonics also forms the backbone of the Internet, guides energy exploration, and keeps our servicemen and women safe on the battlefield.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers at University of Central Florida to see firsthand how photonics are improving our everyday lives. UCF is home to one of the most advanced and well-regarded schools in the country for research in the field of optics and photonics, which both enable technology and drive Florida's economy. From a 2009 report by the Florida High Tech Corridor Council and the Florida Photonics Cluster, optics and photonics employs an estimated 27,090 Floridians, produced roughly $36.5 billion in gross regional product and accounts for $7.27 billion in sales.

Outside of the Sunshine State, public companies that are focused on optics and photonics create more than 10 percent of all U.S. public revenue, or more than $3 trillion. They also create 6 percent, or 7.4 million, of public company jobs. New opportunities arising from optics and photonics offer the potential for even greater societal impact in the next few decades, including new optical capabilities that will be vital for supporting the continued exponential growth of the Internet, high-efficiency lighting, genome mapping, medical devices and solar power.

However, while great accomplishments have been made in discovering, developing and commercializing advances in photonics, the United States has not kept pace with our competitors in investing in this fast-growing field. Consequently, we have lost our competitive edge, as well as many companies and jobs to our competitors overseas.

We know what we must do - and why it is so important. In 1998, the National Research Council released a report, ''Harnessing Light," presenting the potential advantages of optics and photonics on major sectors of the economy. Unfortunately, the U.S. did not seize these opportunities, while our competitors did. In 2011, Germany committed nearly €1 billion ($1.3 billion in U.S. dollars) to photonics research and development over 10 years; China began funding several programs targeting photonics supply chains; and, the European Commission, as part of its new Horizon 2020 program, has directed €1.6 billion (over $2 billion in U.S. dollars) to photonics-related research and development over the next seven years.

In 2012, the National Research Council updated its earlier report and called for National Photonics Initiative to raise awareness about photonics and the impact of photonics on our everyday lives; increase collaboration and coordination among U.S. industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields; and, drive U.S. funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining U.S. competitiveness and national security. Heeding that call, the NPI recently launched and released a white paper, 'Lighting the Path to a Competitive, Secure Future," detailing recommendations from more than 100 industry, academia and government experts to guide funding and investment in five photonics-driven fields:

In national security, photonics makes laser-guided weapons more accurate and provides lasers for missile defense. In energy, photonics provides renewable power sources, as well as optical systems to monitor wells in the oil and gas sector. In health and medicine, photonics is responsible for advances from laser eye surgery to CT scans. In communications and information technology, optics and photonics can continue the advances that have increased the capacity of the Internet by nearly 10,000-fold over the past two decades. And, in advanced manufacturing, substantial job growth is possible in new and innovative areas of manufacturing that make use of high-power and low-cost lasers as well as 3D printing.

Photonics offers great prospects for world-class firms and middle-class jobs in Florida and beyond. Let's stay laser-focused on making photonics a national priority.

John L. Mica is a Republican congressman representing Florida's 7th Congressional District.
Copyright© 2013, Orlando Sentinel

Mica 8-20-13 OpEd.pdf

Posted Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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