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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced the new AIM Photonics initiative at a press conference in Greece. [Image: University of Rochester]

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) launched a call for bids from consortia interested in developing a public-private partnership in integrated photonics, under the Obama administration’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). The results of that competition are now in, and the nod has gone to a group led by the Research Foundation for the State University of New York (RF-SUNY).
Buttressing integrated photonics
The outcome represents a big win not only for the New York-based consortium—which has been dubbed the American Manufacturing Initiative for Photonics (AIM Photonics)—but for integrated photonics itself as a scientific growth area. Including both federal and nonfederal investments, the new initiative will tap some US$610 million in total funding, a figure that dwarfs the target of US$210 million set when the competition for proposals was announced in October 2014.
That makes AIM Photonics, according to the White House, the “largest public-private commitment to date for a manufacturing institute launched in the United States.” It also will reportedly be larger than any similar program in integrated photonics worldwide. The AIM Photonics initiative beat out two other finalists in the competition, one a consortium centered at the University of Central Florida and the other based at the University of Southern California.
As with other manufacturing institutes in the NNMI, the key goal of AIM Photonics will be to help bridge the gap between academic and government development of new technologies and their mainstream commercial production. In announcing the new integrated-photonics hub, the White House stressed the importance of integrated photonics in a range of potentially transformative applications. It also expressed the view that, building on the “legacy of leading optical and photonics technology capabilities” in the Rochester, N.Y., area, where several consortium members are located, AIM Photonics would put the United States in a leadership position in this “critical technology area.”
Broad participation
The RF-SUNY-led consortium will encompass a whopping 75 “key partners” and 49 additional members, drawn from industry (55 companies), academia (20 universities and labs and 33 community colleges), and the nonprofit sector (16 organizations, including The Optical Society), as well as 20 state governments. The U.S. Air Force Research lab will kick in US$110 million of the total funding. Another US$250 million will come from the state of New York, with US$245 million or more expected from the remaining public and private partners in the consortium.
Irrespective of the details of the final winning bid, the announcement of so substantial a new manufacturing initiative represents the culmination of a long-term effort by the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), as well as by individual organizations such as The Optical Society, to build momentum around integrated photonics as a target for such a public-private partnership. Alan Willner, the chairman of the NPI, characterized it as a “great day for the U.S. photonics industry.”