Workers in a photonics lab

The Optics, Photonics and Imaging Industry is Accelerating Growth in New York State

Have you made a telephone call today? Purchased an item that was scanned using a barcode? Or browsed the internet? None of that would be possible without innovations from the modern optics industry, known as Optics, Photonics and Imaging (OPI).

The Finger Lakes region of New York State became the hub of the American optics industry in the 19th century when companies like Eastman Kodak and Bausch + Lomb opened their doors in downtown Rochester. Rooted in the photography and eye care sectors of the industry, the products from these iconic companies made their way into homes around the world, capturing moments and turning them into lasting memories.

Following the invention of the laser in 1960, the industry sector expanded to incorporate optics, photonics and imaging (OPI). Almost 60 years later, the Finger Lakes region still leads the nation in OPI innovations and businesses that drive a wide range of billion dollar industries, from laser-based radar, sensors and telecommunications (thank you, Internet), to lifesaving medical research.

A photonics lab in the Finger Lakes, NY

Here are five ways OPI technology is set to propel the region’s manufacturing and business development forward:  

The Thriving OPI Supply Chain 
The 75+ companies, world-class universities and industry-related research institutes located here form one of the most robust and highly integrated OPI supply chains in the nation. There are more than 18,000 employees in this cluster in the Finger Lakes region.

World-Class Test, Assembly and Packaging Facility
Silicon photonics uses optical fiber on computer chips to transfer data, an evolving OPI technology that could drastically improve server bandwidth and transfer rates anywhere there’s a computer network. The American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics) facility in Rochester, set to be fully operational in 2018, will be the first in the country for testing, assembling and packaging 300-millimeter silicon wafers and other components used in these applications.

Home to the Industry’s Leading Inventors
The majority of the nation’s patents in optics, photonics and imaging technologies have been filed in Rochester; it ranks first in the nation for the number of OPI patents per capita. In fact, some 95 percent of these patent holders still live, work and teach in the city, making it a rich talent pool for area companies to tap into. Robert W. Boyd, professor of optics at the University of Rochester, is a good example. He currently holds nine industry-pioneering patents and is a fellow at the Optical Society of America, SPIE (the International Society for Optics and Photonics) and the American Physical Society. Boyd was also awarded the American Physical Society’s prestigious Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science in 2016. The state continues to support innovation within the region through the recent launch of Luminate NY in Rochester, the world’s largest business accelerator for startup firms in the OPI industry.

In mid-November, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the first 10 companies selected to take part in New York State’s first-ever Luminate NY accelerator competition. Each company will receive an initial investment of $100,000 and will be a part of the initiative’s first cohort, which will launch in January 2018. Selected innovators will continue to grow their ideas in Rochester with the help of industry experts, businesses and local universities.

Access to Specialized OPI Research and Training
The Finger Lakes’ stellar educational institutions continue to drive groundbreaking OPI research and training, and are responsible for awarding more than half of the nation’s optics degrees. Highly specialized research programs within the University of Rochester Institute of Optics, the Rochester Institute of Technology Imaging Sciences and Microelectronics as well as the Monroe Community College’s Optical System Technology Program are readying the next generation of talent by continually supplying the industry with breakthroughs and eager and capable graduates.

Retraining Opportunities for a Higher-Paying OPI Future
As the world shifts to optics-based technology, the need for well-trained technicians will increase dramatically. Lawmakers and institutions in New York State are partnering on ways to bring more task-specific technical training--like that required to build and operate OPI equipment -- into school curriculums. Hundreds of thousands of students are currently enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) high school and postsecondary programs across the state, and those focused on OPI-related work are expected to grow exponentially.