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N.M. Delegation, UNM Announce that Proposal to Create National Institute of Photonics will Advance to Final Round

UNM part of consortium bidding for $110 million federal grant Delegation has supported initiative as a way to create jobs, build on N.M.’s unique expertise in optics and photonics

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce, Ben Ray Luján, and Michelle Lujan Grisham, along with the University of New Mexico, announced that the Department of Defense has selected a team that includes UNM as a finalist for the administration's new Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI) program. The initiative is part of a national effort launched in 2013 to create a network of regional manufacturing institutes or “hubs” across the county that help bridge the gap between applied research and product development. 

UNM will collaborate with a team of academic institutions from four states, led by the Information Science Institute ISI at the University of Southern California, to compete for $110 million in federal grant matching funds to develop a partnership between industry, government and academia to accelerate the creation of new photonics technologies. The mission is to establish a state-of-the-art in the design, manufacture, testing, assembly and packaging of complex photonic integrated circuits that combine a variety of photonic and electronic components to achieve functionality. 

The New Mexico congressional delegation has strongly supported New Mexico’s application. If its application is successful, the USC-UNM hub would be the first hub west of the Mississippi. UNM would serve as the lead sensing hub, focusing on the development of integrated phonic sensors for chem-bio sensing.

“New Mexico’s congressional delegation is united in our strong support for UNM’s application, and we are committed to doing everything we can to help the team succeed,” Udall said. “Our universities, military, business and scientific communities already are among the world’s leading developers of advanced photonics technologies. Not only would the UNM team position the nation to be a global leader in the photonics field, the photonics hub would help New Mexico by boosting efforts to diversify the state’s economy and create well-paying high-tech jobs.”

“The University of New Mexico and its coalition of universities perform some of the world’s most cutting-edge research and development in the field of optics and photonics technologies," Heinrich said. "New Mexico’s private companies, universities, national labs, research facilities, and immeasurable talent make us a leading contender for the Department of Defense’s Integrated Photonics Manufacturing Institute. In New Mexico, we develop photonics technologies that are used in the military, scientific, medical, and intelligence communities. Establishing a photonics hub will help give our communities an economic boost and create quality jobs, while bridging the gap between applied research and product development. I remain steadfast in my commitment to give UNM’s coalition the best shot at this opportunity."

"The advancement of New Mexico to the next round of the IP-IMI process is a testament to the research and development culture in our state,” Pearce said. “I commend the University of New Mexico on this latest achievement and I join my colleagues in continued support for New Mexico's involvement in this critical research."

"It is welcome news that UNM is part of a team that has been selected to submit a full proposal for the Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation," Luján said. "This selection validates New Mexico's national stature in this important field that plays an essential role in robotics, medical imaging, biometric security, and more. Having a hub at UNM would enable New Mexico to play an even greater role and leverage our unique resources to advance this critical sector that can help diversify our economy and spur new opportunities in our communities."

"This is a tremendous opportunity for New Mexico to step up and take a leadership role in this burgeoning industry, while creating high-wage jobs that will boost our economic comeback," Lujan Grisham said.

The USC-UNM team also includes the University of California system schools in Los Angeles, San Diego and Berkeley; Arizona State University; and Ohio State University The team will compete against two others based in New York and Florida. Full and final applications are due by March 31, and the final selection is expected in June 2015. 

“The University of New Mexico already has strong partnerships with our national labs, city and state governments and local industry. We want to enhance those assets in every way we can,” UNM President Robert G. Frank said. “This grant would be a fantastic accelerator.”

Sanjay Krishna, who directs the Center for High Technology Materials at UNM, has been leading UNM’s effort. UNM is currently working with the state and the city of Albuquerque to secure matching funds to develop an integrated photonics curriculum for high schools, colleges and UNM branch campuses as part of a workforce development and education plan.

"I believe that photonics could be an enabling technology that can spur economic development and create new opportunities for entrepreneurs,” Krishna said. “Our close interaction with the federal and national labs is a great strength and our interactions with high schools, community colleges, branch campuses and other universities could create a K through PhD workforce.”

Ultimately, the IP-IMI will be an end-to-end integrated photonics manufacturing “ecosystem.” It will include integrated design tools for efficient simulation and design of integrated photonic circuits, domestic photonic device fabrication foundry access, automated packaging, assembly and test of integrated photonic circuits, and workforce development. Activities under the IP-IMI will enable universities and small-to-medium enterprises to participate in the integrated photonics revolution. It will bring government, industry and academia together with the goal of organizing the current fragmented domestic capabilities in integrated photonic technology and better position the U.S. relative to global competition.

The IP-IMI is the newest addition to the federal government’s new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a series of manufacturing “hubs” intended to bridge the gap between applied research and product development by bringing together companies, universities and other academic and training institutions, and federal agencies to co invest in key technology areas that encourage investment and production in the United States.

This type of "teaching factory" provides a unique opportunity for education and training of students and workers at all levels, while providing the shared assets to help small manufacturers and other companies access the cutting-edge capabilities and equipment to design, test, and pilot new products and manufacturing processes.