The Importance of Photonics Technology

I hope you enjoyed my prior blog introducing the Photonics Lab at Global Research. I would like to further highlight the importance of Photonics and Optics by pointing to a recent report written by the US National Academies with the help of the two major technical societies in the field, SPIE and OSA. The report is called Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation and is a follow-up report to one written in 1998 on the same topic. The report was produced by the National Academies project “Harnessing Light: Capitalizing on Optical Science Trends and Challenges for Future Research.”


The project was supported by funding from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Standards & Technology (NIST), Army Research Office (ARO), Department of Energy (DOE), Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), National Research Council (NRC), Optical Society of America (OSA), and Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE).

I attended the SPIE Optics & Photonics conference in San Diego this past August and was able to attend the official unveiling of the report to the photonics/optics community and media. The report highlights the grand challenges in the field of photonics/optics and also the impact of photonics and optics on the US economy. In general, photonics is an enabling technology that is not always a product per se, yet photonics has a significant impact on all major economic segments.  There are many universities and companies in the US doing important research and development in photonics for various applications. This video from SPIE highlights some of them.

Furthermore, the report breaks down the number of companies working in photonics, the number of researchers/engineers in the field, and the economic impact.

Some particularly interesting facts include:

  • While less than ~2% of the US public companies are engaged in photonics, these public photonics companies contribute ~10% of public company annual revenues and 6% of public company employment.
  • The annual value of laser deployed in the economic sectors of a) transportation, b) biomedicine, and c) tele-com/e-commerce/IT is estimated to be ~$1.3B, ~$400M, and ~$3.2B, respectively (note: the laser was invented by T. Maiman at Hughes Aircraft in 1960, and the laser diode was invented at GE by R.N. Hall 50 years ago this month)
  • 12 of the 50 best inventions in 2011 highlighted by TIME magazine included photonics/optics as a key component.

Myself and other colleagues within GE are interested in working towards helping to raise awareness of the technological and economic impact of photonics & optics and look forward to further interaction with the aforementioned societies and others interested in doing so. For more details, I urge you to visit the SPIE website to view a summary of the study as well as the full detailed report.