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University of RochesterThe University of Rochester wants to create a second photonics institute.


Once you’ve stopped laughing, read on to hear why this second institute is probably needed more than the first one.

Word of a second photonics institute called Lightscale Research Institute, was revealed in a widely circulated email sent out by U of R photonics gurus to local people in the industry. No one appears to be authorized to talk about Lightscale on the record, so here is what I’ve been able to piece together in talks with sources.

The first institute – the AIM Photonics Institute that brought Vice President Joe Biden here – will have more than $600 million in funding. But only $130 million of that money is coming to Rochester, sources say. Fifteen million dollars is coming from the Department of Defense, $80 million is going to the U of R and $35 million is going to Rochester Institute of Technology.

AIM Photonics is a national effort, but that effort is too restrictive to exploit Rochester’s true potential in photonics. AIM can only do integrated photonics, which is the use of optical fibers to move data at high rates of speed. In addition to AIM’s narrow focus, it’s a federal effort, which means it doesn’t have a singular focus on creating jobs in Rochester.

(A huge irony is that Rochester’s colleges and industries don’t even specialize in integrated photonics. But it’s not a stretch to make the leap, especially with SUNY Polytechnic as a partner. “We have transferrable skills,” one source said.)

Here’s where Lightscale comes in. This second photonics institute is hoping Rochester wins the $500 million Upstate Hunger Games competition, and it gets a $100 million cut. Unlike AIM, Lightscale would have a broad focus on many different kinds of photonics, including optics, lasers and imaging. It would have a regional focus and would create regional jobs.

Kodak was good at systems. Kodak could make components, such as lenses, but its bread and butter was cameras. AIM is components. Lightscale is systems. Lightscale is the stuff Rochester is really good at doing. Lightscale is the stuff that makes systems closer to consumers – next generation platform, 3D systems, virtual reality, etc. The closer you get to consumers, the more jobs you create. “It’s moving up the value chain,” as one source put it.

Does AIM have the potential to create 5,000 to 10,000 jobs in Rochester, as SUNY Polytechnic head Dr. Alain Kaloyeros suggested?  The odds are way better working with Lightscale, sources say. AIM’s focus is too narrow and it’s mission is national.

That’s the reasoning behind Lightscale, a second photonics institute. That’s why University of Rochester went ballistic when Kaloyeros tried to take over the whole AIM project. U of R has its own photonics vision – and it might be a heck of lot bigger than anyone realized.


Below is the email describing Lightscale from U of R’s Paul Ballentine and Mark Bocko.

Dear Friends,

As you probably know by now, on July 27th Vice President Biden came to Rochester to announce our region has been chosen as the home to the national Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI).  This is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).  This event was the culmination of over three years of hard work and careful planning to: (a) have the U.S. government identify photonics as a topic for an NNMI Institute AND (b) make sure that institute is headquartered in Rochester.  An early step toward this achievement was taken on December 17, 2012 when over 100 key stakeholders gathered joined CEIS at the UR Alumni Center for a full day of discussions on what an NNMI institute for photonics should look like. At the time, we called the proposed institute POMATech (Photonics and Optics MAnufacturing TECHnology).  The idea was to have an institute that covered a range of optics, photonics, and imaging technologies – one that would leverage the wide range of skills and resources in our community.  As it turned out, the original proposal by the Obama administration to have NIST fund the institutes and allow proposing entities recommend the topics was not funded. Instead, individual agencies have been funding NNMI Institutes for topics of their choosing.  After over two years of lobbying by the Rochester photonics community, our congressional delegation, RRPC, the Optical Society of America, SPIE, the National Photonics Initiative, and many other individuals and organizations, the Department of Defense issued a call for proposals in 2014 for an NNMI Institute for integrated photonics.  This was one of the six areas we discussed in the 12/12 workshop.

The New York proposal for the IP-IMI won out over proposals from Central Florida and Southern California.  The New York institute, called AIM Photonics, will be led by the University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Other participating universities include  MIT, the University of Arizona, and UC Santa Barbara. Participating companies include Intel, IBM, and many others.  Over 20 Rochester area optics and photonics companies are also supporting the institute.  The DOD is providing $110M in funding over five years and New York State is providing $250M of matching funds.  The total funding, including matching grants from other states and company contributions is over $600 million.  Of that total, $130M will be spent in the Rochester area. Rochester was chosen as the headquarters for AIM Photonics based on the region¹s strengths in both the technical, educational, and business aspects of photonics.  In addition to the headquarters, Rochester will be the center of the packaging and sensor efforts of AIM Photonics.  Rochester will also play leading roles in education, workforce training, and design automation.

The NNMI award is only part of the progress we have made in getting federal support for the region¹s photonics industry.  Over the past 3 years, Rochester has been awarded grants for all four of President Obama¹s manufacturing jobs initiatives:  The Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge (CEIS), the Advanced Manufacturing Technology program (CEIS), the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership program (the City of Rochester)) and the NNMI program (AIM Photonics).  All four of these are based on optics, photonics, and imaging.  This is a tremendous achievement for the region, and one in which we should share a sense of community pride.  We are also fortunate that New York State continues to support CEIS as the Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) for optics, photonics, and imaging.  These are important parts of the  effort to re establish Rochester as the leading center for optics, photonics, and imaging in the world.

Our work is not done.  CEIS is currently working with the Rochester photonics community to establish a second major photonics institute in Rochester.  This proposed Institute, called the Lightscale Research Institute, will be part of the region¹s proposal for one of the $500M Upstate New York Revitalization Initiative (URI) grants.  Why two institutes?  LRI will differ from AIM Photonics in two important ways.  First, the focus of LRI will be on a broad range of light-based technologies other than integrated photonics, including advanced optics, lasers, and  imaging/multimedia platforms.  AIM Photonics is restricted to integrated photonics by the DOD.  Second, LRI will be a NY State institute while AIM Photonics is a federal institute.  There will be different fiduciary responsibilities for public funds.  AIM Photonics, while heavily subsidized by New York State, will be a federal institute.  LRI will be more focused on regional economic development, although it will benefit the entire optics industry and have national and international participation by companies that are committed to invest in the Rochester region.

While we greatly appreciate the attention photonics is getting, it is important to work closely with those who have created these opportunities.  The strategies required to turn these developments into real economic growth are complex.  We all need to work together in a coordinated, comprehensive, and consistent way if we want to control our own destiny and turn these public investments into real economic growth,

A lot of people have contributed to these efforts and are continuing to do so. In particular Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has been a strong and steady supporter of the Rochester optics, photonics, and imaging industry for decades and provided the original impetus for this activity.  And Jay Eastman has been involved from the start and has volunteered a considerable amount of his time over the last 3 years.  Jay continues to play a leading role in the effort to rebuild the Rochester photonics industry through his role as co-chair of the Optics and Photonics Work Group of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

AIM Photonics and LRI (if funded) will be pillars upon which a healthy optics, photonics, and imaging industry in Rochester can grow.  The real goal of these efforts is to see substantial private investment leading to the incubation, growth, and attraction of optics, photonics, and imaging companies.  These companies will provide well paying jobs and help address the poverty situation in the Rochester region.

We appreciate your continued support in this effort.  If you have any questions or would like to become more involved, please don¹t hesitate to call or send us at CEIS or send us an email.


Mark Bocko, Director

Paul Ballentine, Executive Director

The Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences
University of Rochester

14 Responses to Second Photonics Institute Planned

  1. August 19, 2015 at 9:26 pm jacque cady responds:

    cameras were not Kodak’s bread and butter. Film was Kodak’s bread and butter.

  2. August 19, 2015 at 9:28 pm Bret Dangelmaier responds:

    A “Rochesterian” gets that one wrong….. Too funny…

    • August 19, 2015 at 9:32 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Film was used in cameras. It was the system as a whole that Kodak developed. Lenses were not worth much without the camera. Get it?

  3. August 19, 2015 at 9:39 pm rochester_veteran responds:

    Just a reminder, this is all being funded with taxpayer money, meaning all of us working people’s money that we’re funding the gov’t with… So how good will this turn out to be for Rochesterians on the whole?

  4. Only $130 coming to Rochester? Forget Sibley’s or B&L. That wouldn’t fill a pothole. (Let the “which pothole to fill” controversy begin.)

  5. August 20, 2015 at 12:40 pm Some Guy responds:

    “the $500 million Upstate Hunger Games competition”

    Best description of region’s economic development model (hope) I’ve seen!

  6. Nice reporting here, but you’re way out of your depth unfortunately RB, in too many ways to count.

    “…Kodak was good at systems. Kodak could make components, such as lenses, but its bread and butter was cameras. …”

    This is so wrong I could write a paper on it. Kodak was really poor at developing and marketing systems.
    Cameras were the means to an end: selling film and paper, the continuous processing Kodak was at least reasonably “fair” at.
    Kodak hated building things like cameras. And look at some of the track record of disc cameras and instant cameras, not to mention Kodavision 8mm, minilabs (dropped out of market just before enormous industry expansion), PhotoCD players, ,etc, etc, etc.

    Having worked there and in the real systems area of photonics manufacturing, I have to merely laugh at many of these idiotic and misguided proposals to waste more of our government’s tax revenue. (I mean our money of course)

    Every time I read the word “manufacturing” from some of these clowns and their wildly optimistic (read: insane) predictions on job creations, I only have to look at the track record of government, and unfortunately much of our academia leadership and their dismal failures, such as the “Infotonics” debacle in Canandaigua.

    And the most press seems to be over the squabble over real estate, like two absolutely horrific locations downtown to do real successful research. Having worked both in research and downtown, I know what I am talking about. This is too typical, and sad.
    Both of these locations are bad, but then, so is much of the whole vague “concept” that they are proposing.

    Everybody wants their hand out for “our share” of the government graft money. I guess it’s understandable in a way. If the building is falling down, everyone would like seat near the door. Dig deeper into some of the names mentioned in your article, and see what their actual track records are before we give their nonsense any credence of respectability.

    I wish we would be brave enough as society to recognize the failures of the current models of government spending for the promotion of technology and the massive waste it is. Give real capitalism a chance: the really successful operations like Apple and Google tried it, and liked it.

    And so did we.

    • August 21, 2015 at 10:30 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      If I’m out of my depth, so are the scientists who used these same analogies to explain this to me. Trust me, they’re smarter.

  7. So for weeks we’ve heard 600 million coming to Roc, now it’s 130 million? What about the 250 million in state money? Rochester is seeing none of that? Where is it going?! Never mind, that’s rhetorical. Buffalo must be getting it, right?

  8. August 20, 2015 at 7:28 pm Kevin Yost responds:

    If there is to be a second photonics institute, why not locate it in Buffalo, affiliate it with SUNY University at Buffalo (UB), and headquarter it in that city’s mostly-vacant One Seneca Tower (formerly HSBC Tower), which goes for foreclosure auction in October.

    • How does it make any sense to do that in Buffalo when all the knowledge is here in Rochester and we have our own schools and empty buildings right here? Buffalo already has it’s own silver bullet project anyway, Solar City.

  9. This past week made me question if Rochester’s current regional economic council leaders possess the agile thinking and the drive to truly turn Rochester into a national technology hub. The fact that there has been this fiery standoff over where the Photonics HQ would be located is a red flag, that could mean this initiative will be swamped with politics and bureaucracy.

    Innovative communities do not need a fancy designation or a fancy new or renovated building to be successful. It’s all about the people that make up this community. Some of the best innovators and entrepreneurs in the world started their ventures in their garages, their dorm rooms or their kitchens. It’s more important for the community to back them. A lot of the greatest entrepreneurs in the area had global ambitions that their innovations would change the world.

    The other problem people seem to ignore and don’t question is if many of these large entities are really the best ones to spearhead initiatives such as the local URI grant. Just because an organization employees 20 thousand people doesn’t mean that organization’s leader possesses the best vision for the community. If anything they may be hogging the spotlight and using their influence to for something that is self-serving.

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