Let’s discuss PhotonIcs, in which I intentionally capitalize the “I” for “Innovation.” Innovation is the name of game in our field that drives us to demonstrate new concepts that will translate into ground-breaking technologies. What motivated me to write on this topic is an IEEE Spectrum article I read on the impact of “Photonics on the Future of Deep Learning” (https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-future-of-deep-learning-is-photonic). In this area, photonics is critical to realize neural networks, which will be faster, more accurate, and energy efficient, as demonstrated by the author with a simple example on matrix multiplication using a hybrid opto-electronics circuit. It was also revealing to read that several startups are developing neural networks and other architectures for optical computing. With enormous advances in optical materials, in nanofabrication, in active devices, in sensors, and in photonics integration, the time is prime for envisioning compact optical chips that will complement or in some cases replace electronic chips.

The economic impact of the photonics technologies world-wide is huge. Just think of all the photonics technologies in your mobile phone! In a book published by the National Research Council of the US National Academies in 2013 (https://www.nap.edu/read/13491/chapter/1), entitled “Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation,” several technological challenges were identified. Among these, “increasing the capacity of optical networks and developing a seamless integration of photonics and electronics components as a mainstream platform for low-cost fabrication and packaging on a chip for communication, sensing, medical, energy and defense application” is identified. This report has motivated large research efforts in the United States that involve universities, private industry, and consortia partnerships.

Innovation in photonics requires work-force development. From my perspective as a professor in a United States university, it seems as if I cannot train students fast enough to meet the demands of industry. With a background in optics and lasers, our graduate students are recruited before they finish graduate school!

At the IEEE Photonics Society, we are addressing the needs of workforce development and the needs to support industry in different ways. The Industry Engagement Committee (IEC) headed by former IEEE Photonics Society President, Dr. Dalma Novak of Octane Wireless, develops programs with the objective to “promote Society products and services to industry; encourage entrepreneurship within the photonics community; support the Society’s standardization and industry alliance activities; provide recognition for members within Industry; enhance members’ access to industry- relevant training and continuing education; increase the engagement of Industry members with the Society’s Distinguished Lecturer program.”

Since 2018, the IEC has organized an “Industry Day.” This event is a part of our flagship conference, the IEEE Photonics Conference (IPC), and brings to our members the latest on technology innovations in industry, as well as topics related to product development, the photonic industry eco-system, entrepreneurship, and career development. It is a very well attended event by all professional sectors. The Industry day program at the virtual 2021 IPC consisted of interactive panel discussions on Entrepreneurship and the Labor Market and Career Development, round table discussions on Photonics Foundries and a section promoting the Canadian Photonics Industry. The committee is also very active in providing mentorship to young professionals in other ways. You will read in this newsletter an insightful article by Daniel Renner on “Life at a Photonics Startup: Lessons Learned,” which focuses on how to write successful proposals.

Recently the IEEE Photonics Society established a multiyear collaborative effort with the European Photonics Industry Consortium, a not-for- profit industry association to promote joint activities and cooperative programs to enhance the professional development of industry professionals and provide industry-relevant training to students and continuing education opportunities for practitioners. This effort will complement and augment those of the IEC. As part of bringing visibility to the contributions of individuals who have made significant contributions to the photonics industry, the IEEE Photonics Society will roll out next year a new Photonics Society Award for Industry Achievements.

I just provided you with a glimpse of some of the IEEE Photonics Society industry efforts. There may be other opportunities. For these, we need enthusiastic volunteers that will take on the leadership to develop new industry supporting programs. We invite you to sign up with the IEC.

With warm wishes,
Carmen S. Menoni
President (2020–2021)
IEEE Photonics Society