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A consortium, that includes the University of New Mexico, is bidding for $110 million in federal funds for a new Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI). The consortium has advanced to the final round of competition, the Department of Defense announced recently.

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.

The mission is to establish a state-of-the-art hub focusing on 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 program calls for UNM to collaborate with a team of academic institutions from four states, led by the Information Science Institute ISI at University of Southern California. The $110 million in federal grant matching funds will help develop a partnership between industry, government and academia to accelerate the creation of new photonics technologies.

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

Sanjay Krishna, UNM School of Engineering professor in computer and electrical engineering, directs UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM) and 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.

If successful, the USC-UNM hub would be the first west of the Mississippi. UNM would serve as the lead sensing hub, focusing on the development of integrated phonic sensors for chem-bio sensing.

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 New Mexico congressional delegation: U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce are all in support of the program.

“Our universities, military, business and scientific communities already are among the world’s leading developers of advanced photonics technologies,” said Udall. “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.”

"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. "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 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.”

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.