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New York bid wins US photonics manufacturing competition

The White House has announced the winner of the Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI): the consortium led by the State University of New York (SUNY).

Proposed as part of President Obama's National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), the IP-IMI is being established to bring government, industry and academia closer together to advance state-of-the-art photonics technology and make the United States more competitive in this critical new industry.

The total investment will exceed $610 million over five years – including $110 million in federal funds and more than $250 million promised by New York State – to create and support thousands of advanced research and manufacturing jobs.

This makes the photonics institute the largest public-private commitment to date for a manufacturing institute launched in the United States.

The communications industry will be one of the main beneficiaries as integrated photonics can revolutionise optical transmission by improving capacity, speed and energy efficiency. Other industries where this technology could be applied include medical technology and research, as well as battlefield imaging and radar capabilities for national defence.

News of the winner was leaked last week, ending speculation about why the result – originally expected in June – had been delayed for the past month.

The New York group was chosen over two other bids led by the University of Central Florida and University of Southern California (see US gives photonics manufacturing a shot in the arm).

Now christened the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM), the new institute will be headquartered in Rochester, New York, with access to a major silicon fabrication facility at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and additional hubs located in Massachusetts and the West Coast.

In total, AIM consists of more than 50 companies, 20 universities, 33 community colleges, and 16 non-profit organizations across 20 states. In addition, the institute will work closely with government partners, including the Department of Defense, Departments of Energy and Commerce, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.

The principal investigator and AIM CEO is Professor Michael Liehr of the Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany. He said: “Today’s announcement is a testament to the outstanding team of industrial and academic leaders assembled by AIM Photonics and its plan to establish the US as a global leader in this emerging technology.”

The West Coast operations of the AIM will be co-ordinated at University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) under the leadership of John Bowers, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the campus's Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE).

UCSB is well-known for its work on integrating lasers onto silicon, and its photonics research has spun out several companies in the optical communications space, including Aurrion, Agility Communications, and Calient Networks.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will manage important parts of the program: Michael Watts, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, will lead the technological development in silicon photonics. The world’s largest silicon-based photonic circuit to date was designed at MIT and built using industry-standard 300-mm silicon wafers in the nanotechnology manufacturing facility at SUNY Polytechnic, he points out.

MIT’s Lionel Kimerling, the Thomas Lord Professor in Materials Science and Engineering, will also lead a program in education and workforce development. “Europe is ahead in industry coordination right now,” following a decade of government investment, Kimerling said. This new US initiative, he says, is “one of the first of this kind in the US, and the bet is that the innovation and research here, combined with the manufacturing capability, will allow our companies to really take off.”



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