From AIM to NPI and Back

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Late summer saw several bits of interesting news for a major photonics public-private partnership (PPP), the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics), and for the industry-academic alliance, the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), that helped give birth to it.

On 3 August 2017, NPI announced that Ed White, who currently serves in several senior roles with AIM Photonics, will replace former OSA President Alan Willner at the helm of the NPI steering committee. And a week later, AIM Photonics announced that a team led by the University of Arizona had won a proposal call from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)—involving US$1.6 million in expenditures—to develop and manufacture photonic integrated-circuit (PIC) data links for cryogenic focal-plane arrays (FPAs), a key component of military imaging applications such as night-vision systems.

A new hand on the NPI tiller

White, the new chair of the NPI steering group, acts as both AIM Photonics’ corporate-outreach exectutive and the associate vice president in charge of the partnership’s recently launched test, assembly and packaging (TAP) operation in Rochester. In the former role, he works to identify corporate partners that could benefit from AIM Photonics’ activities in PIC manufacturing and education; in the latter, he is responsible for the launch and operation of the new TAP facility and business. He has served on the NPI steering committee since December 2015.

Willner, in handing over the steering group’s reins to White, can look back on a period of significant accomplishment for NPI during his two years as committee chair. These include the development of a roadmap to help guide the technology (particularly in sensing and other biomedical applications leveraging optics and photonics) underlying the U.S. government’s “Cancer Moonshot” program. Other highlights include advancing new threads in quantum information systems and high-performance computing as crucial strategic areas for the United States, and NPI efforts to support passage of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act and the 21st Century Cures Act, both signed into law by President Barack Obama in late 2016, shortly before Obama left office.

Willner—whose NPI involvement stretches back to 2013, when he coauthored a key report from the U.S. National Academy of Science that recommended the formation of a “national initiative” to advance America’s competitive position in optical and photonic science—will continue as a member of the NPI steering committee under White’s leadership.

Continued momentum at AIM Photonics

Meanwhile, on 9 August, AIM Photonics—White’s “day-job” employer, and the public-private partnership (PPP) that came into being in 2015 partly as a result of NPI’s successful efforts a year earlier to lobby for a national manufacturing innovation initiative in photonics—announced the winner of the proposal round to develop and manufacture PICs for the U.S. Defense Department’s cryogenic FPAs. Under the terms of the contract, the University of Arizona will lead a team that also includes members from Sandia National Labs, Raytheon, and other aerospace firms, making the deal truly an academic-government-industry partnership.

The project, according to an AIM Photonics press release, will “encompass the design, fabrication and test of cryogenic PIC-based datalinks for FPA readout and has the potential to strongly advance imaging capabilities for national defense applications.” It will also, the PPP stresses, leverage the consortium and facilities developed by AIM Photonics, including the new TAP facility being built and run under Ed White’s stewardship. The project will include US$1.2 million of DoD funding, along with US$0.4 million in matching funds from the members of the project consortium.

Michael Liehr, the CEO of AIM Photonics, noted in the same press release that the “state-of-the-art” design and development infrastructure that the PPP has developed constitutes “a key benefit for the team as they create this next integrated photonics technology.”

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