Three leading European Nobel Laureates from France and Germany have warned that failure to include a dedicated photonics programme in the EU’s next Horizon programme will jeopardise all long-term technology capability and capacity, essential in powering the future European digital economy.
“Failure to do so will jeopardise Europe’s deep tech capability, its digital ambitions and with it, the future of its aeronautics, security, healthcare, high-performance computing and telecoms industries,” they said in a jointly-signed, open letter to the European Commission.
“Photonics underpins as yet undiscovered advances in many other sectors, including health, space, mobility and security,” the Laureates went on to say.
The scientists—Gérard Mourou (physics, 2018), Stefan W. Hell (chemistry, 2014), and Theodor W. Hänsch (physics, 2005)—were all awarded the Nobel Prize for their work in the fields of photonics and photonics-enabled sciences.
Photonics enable the deep tech applications that power medicine—representing 80% of the in-vitro diagnostic market—aeronautics, data security and plenty more. While providing the sensing that connects the physical with the digital in the robotics era, photonic-integrated circuits are not only faster than traditional electronics, they also consume less energy, rendering them more power efficient.
“The Photonics 21 contractual public-private partnership (cPPP) was assessed best in class in the mid-term review, under the Horizon 2020 programme, and a role model for future European partnerships,” said Carlos Lee, head of the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC), while angling for the future Horizon programme to include photonics as the tenth technology priority.
Going further, Lee laid out the importance of the technology investment for Europe. “[By supporting photonics] the Commission will shore up Europe’s security sovereignty and underpin its ability to compete in the next phase of the digital revolution. It also supports the EU’s SME sector, in which 86% of Europe’s 5,000 photonics companies reside,” he explained.
In a 2018 report, The European Investment Bank described photonics as an “essential Key Enabling Technology … of the next digital revolution … with huge potential to fuel innovation and economic growth. They provide the building blocks for disruptive technologies, such as: artificial intelligence, big data, additive manufacturing, robotics, Internet of Things, autonomous driving, etc.”
It goes on to estimate that the photonics industry brings a positive “leverage” impact to 10% of Europe’s economy, and that leverage ratios may go up to 50 (between photonics market size and total impacted market size). Indeed, private-to-public spending ratios have been 5:1 during the Horizon 2020 program.
Other proponents suggest that many in the photonics industries and beyond stand to lose a lot—including more than simply jobs, but rather careers—should the Commission decide to go forward with their current investment plan.
“Europe has already lost its dominance in the semi-conductor, LED and solar industries,” Lee stressed. “Now, the Commission is abandoning its star performer and once again throwing away Europe’s chance to lead the world in technologies of the future.”
The Commission has yet to publicly comment specifically on photonics in their grander investment plans.