Representative for the 24th District of California Congresswoman Lois Capps visited UC Santa Barbara Monday to tour the American Institute for Manufacturing of Photonics (A.I.M. Photonics) facility.
Photonics is the science and application of transmitting great quantities of data using radiant energy such as light, whose base unit is the photon. UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency was named the West Coast Headquarters for A.I.M. Photonics in July 2015, and the Research Foundation for the State University of New York (RF SUNY) was named the lead in this institute. A.I.M. Photonics received $110 million from the Department of Defense along with $500 million from state and private industry partners nationwide.
Deputy Director of A.I.M. Photonics Institute John Bowers said President Barack Obama is encouraging the U.S. to be more active as a producer and not just a consumer.
“President Obama wanted to convert us from basically being consumers of things to being makers of things,” Bowers said. “There are a bunch of these institutes that President Obama authorized.”
Universities including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Arizona, Stanford University, California Institute of Technology, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Columbia University and the University of Virginia will contribute their research to the consortium. Bowers said A.I.M. Photonics and the money coming in may eventually establish the U.S. as a global leader in photonics.
“It is actually international,” Bowers said. “Japan has an initiative very similar to what we are doing at least the same size, and Europe has an initiative that is probably even bigger than this.”
Capps said if the U.S. does not provide jobs in photonics, people will look to other countries for these opportunities.
“The young generation will go into other countries,” Capps said. “I’m not so worried about the comparing, I don’t want it to get stifled.”
Kavli professor of electrical and computer engineering Larry Coldren said major integrated photonics companies such as Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Infinera employ UCSB alumni.
“If you look at the students and personnel a lot of them came from here at UCSB,” Coldren said.
UCSB Vice Chancellor of the Office of Research Michael Witherell said UCSB has a history of work in photonics.
“We had this International Year of Light symposium last week and … we were talking about the history of photonics and how it developed here and the role that Santa Barbara had and a lot of people from other institutions were talking about how this is a natural place for that,” Witherell said.
According to Bowers, photonic technology was previously an expensive process strictly for military use.
“But now it is a commodity and that is kind of what we are trying to do here is make these things commodities that can impact the world markets,” Bowers said.
Capps said the development of photonics being done on campus has greatly contributed to UCSB’s reputation as a research institution.
“[Photonics is] really interesting, it has made UCSB a whole different place,” Capps said.
Bowers said UCSB’s strategy is to hire new faculty and start research in areas of photonics including hybrid silicon photonics, optical integration and networking, energy conversion and high-speed electronics.
“I will say it has really energized the campus to see people coming in that way again,” Bowers said. “Part of what we do is help people get funding for their research and we are just swamped with new faculty … that’s not where we were five years ago.”