May 31, 2023

PU Receives Development Grant to Lead Regional Photonics Research Consortium

By Donald Gilpin

With a recent grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Regional Innovations Engines program, Princeton University will be leading a consortium researching economic and technological advancements in the field of photonics. Also known as lightwave technology, the field includes lasers, optical fibers, and light-based innovations. 

The collaboration, co-led by Rowan University, includes universities and community colleges, photonics companies, statewide workforce development programs, and technology accelerators and incubators — all advancing research and translating that research into startup companies and economic opportunities. 

“Photonics is one of the unseen gems of the New Jersey economy, providing thousands of good-paying jobs and leading global innovation,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy as quoted in a Princeton University press release.  “Congratulations to Princeton University, Rowan University, and the many other New Jersey institutions of higher education, companies, and state agencies that are joining forces on this effort to affirm our state’s longstanding role as a leader in innovation.”

Through the control of light for use in technology, photonics has applications in information technology, health care, manufacturing, solar power with photovoltaic cells, defense and space technology, and clean energy, with the potential to improve cancer detection, food safety, smart phones, self-driving cars, and more.

“This initiative unites colleges and universities, startups, and established companies across our region to catalyze research, develop new technologies, create jobs, and strengthen the economy,” said Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber in the press release. “Princeton is proud to be part of this National Science Foundation program, which is helping to grow scientific research and technological innovation in every part of our nation.”

In announcing this new multistate collaboration, which is called Advancing Photonics Technologies (APT), NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan noted, “These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines. These awardees are part
of the fabric of NSF’s vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere. They will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of the nation.”

The APT consortium is one of more than 40 teams nationwide chosen to receive NSF Engines Development Awards, which provide up to two years of funding toward the planning of a multistage initiative to create economic, societal, and technological opportunities for their regions. Proposals can receive up to $160 million to implement their plans in creating future NSF

Princeton University Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Craig B. Arnold, Princeton’s vice dean for innovation, will be the consortium’s principal investigator. He holds 13 granted patents, is the co-founder of two companies, and his research expertise spans advanced manufacturing, energy storage and conversion, and optics, as well as photonics. 

“Photonics will play a crucial role in pushing 21st century applications to be cleaner, smarter, and more secure,” said Arnold.  “To enable this technology and expand its reach, we aim to grow a robust, diverse photonics workforce that is tightly integrated within an ecosystem of continuous innovation and use-inspired research.”

Considered one of the key technologies of the 21st century, photonics has been cited by various government institutions in Europe, Asia, and the United States for its importance in the fields of science, technology, and the economy, according to the RP Photonics Encyclopedia. Many Nobel Prizes over the past 25 years have been awarded to photonics-related inventions and discoveries.