WASHINGTON, DC - A new report by a
committee of the National Research Council (NRC) has predicted that
harnessing the properties of light will lead to a technology revolution
having a pervasive impact on life in the next century.
The dramatic vision, along with recommendations to help the nation's
research community maximize the potential of optical science and
engineering, were previewed in San Francisco today by Charles V. Shank,
director of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory, at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics and the
International Quantum Electronics Conference (CLEOr/IQEC).
Shank was chair of the Research Council's Committee on Optical Science
and Engineering, which produced the NRC report -- "Harnessing
Light: Optical Science and Engineering for the 21st Century." An
overview of the report -- which contains the executive summary,
conclusions, and recommendations -- can be ordered from the National
Academy Press (see below). The full report is expected soon.
"Harnessing Light" describes optics as a critical enabler
for technology that promises to revolutionize the fields of
communications, medicine, energy, efficiency, defense, manufacturing,
and the frontiers of science into the next century. The report
recommends: Congress should challenge industry and the federal
regulatory agencies to ensure the rapid development and deployment of a
broadband fiber-to-the-home infrastructure.
The importance of optical science in biomedical research aimed at
understanding human disease should be recognized by establishing a
National Institute of Health (NIH) study section dedicated to this
area. NIH should raise the priority for funding innovative optical
technologies for medicine and medical research. An initiative should be
launched to identify the optical signatures of human biological
processes and substances for application to noninvasive
The Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the
Electric Power Research Institute, and the National Electrical
Manufacturers Association should coordinate their efforts to create a
single program to enhance the efficiency and efficacy of new lighting
sources and delivery systems, with the goal of reducing U.S.
consumption of electricity for lighting by a factor of two over the
next decade, thus saving about $10 billion to $20 billion per year in
DOD should stress investment in R&D on key optical technologies
such as photonics, sensors, and high-power tunable lasers to gain
maximum defense competitive advantage. Special attention should also be
given to investment in low-cost manufacturing of precision aspheric,
diffractive, and conformal optics.
Participation in the DARPA-sponsored Precision Laser Machining
Consortium should be extended to other optically assisted manufacturing
areas by establishing a test facility in a service center scenario.
Progress in materials science and engineering is critical to progress
in optics. DARPA should therefore coordinate and invest in optical
research on new materials and material processing methods with the goal
of maintaining a stream of materials breakthroughs.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology should become a
leader in the development of international optics standards by
coordinating the efforts of U.S. industry and the domestic and foreign
Multiple agencies should form a working group to support optics as a
crosscutting initiative similar to the recent initiative in
high-performance computing and communications systems.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) should develop an ongoing,
agency-wide, separately funded initiative to support multidisciplinary
research and education in optics.
Universities should encourage multidisciplinarity in optics education,
cutting across departmental boundaries, and should provide research
opportunities at all levels, from the bachelor's degree to the
doctorate and from basic science to applied technology.
Professional societies should continue to expand their commitment to
professional education in optics. Accordingly, they should work to
strengthen optics as a recognized crosscutting area of science and
technology through the recently established Coalition for Photonics and
Optics (CPO). Professional societies should also evaluate optics
programs and jointly produce an annual guide to educational programs in
CPO, a coalition of eleven scientific, engineering, and trade
organizations with the mission "to promote the interests of the
optics and photonics community," will meet in May or June to
review and access the recommendations in "Harnessing Light"
and develop an action plan to disseminate and romote the report's
findings. The members of CPO include the: Arizona Optics Industry
Association; American Precision Optics Manufacturers Association;
Colorado Photonics Industry Association; Laser & Electro-Optics
Manufacturers Association; Lasers & Electro-Optics Society of the
IEEE; Laser Institute of America; National Network for Electro-Optics
Manufacturing Technology; Optoelectronics Industry Development
Association; Optical Society of America; SPIE - International Society
for Optical Engineering; and United States Display Consortium.
"Harnessing Light: Optical Science and
Engineering for the 21st Century" can be
ordered through the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW,
Lockbox 285, Washington, DC 20055; by calling 800-624-6242; or by going