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Vice President Visits Rochester To Officially Announce Photonics Funds

Jul 27, 2015

Prior to the announcement, VP Biden received a briefing on the scope of photonics research in the Rochester region.
Credit Veronica Volk / WXXI

Its official: A $110 million federal grant will be matched with half a billion dollars in public and private investments in order to create a Photonics Research and Manufacturing Hub in Rochester. Vice President Joe Biden, Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall, and Governor Andrew Cuomo came together with Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Mayor Lovely Warren, and other prominent officials at the Canal Ponds Business Park to make the announcement.

Photonics is the use of light in technology. It's fast, efficient, and used in telecommunications, medical imaging, and national defense. It uses photons to transmit data, which are smaller, quicker molecules compared to the electrons used in electronics, and so photonic technology is faster and more energy efficient by comparison.

Politicians and business owners have high hopes for the institute. It's expected to create six thousand jobs, and reverse the perceived brain drain that affects the region. Vice President Biden says making Rochester a photonics hub has implications that extend far beyond the region.

"It's not going to only affect Rochester and the State of New York, and the United States of America, it's going to affect the whole world. This is one of the most promising areas we can move into and I can think of no more promising place to do it than here in Rochester."

Biden called on Rochester's rich history in the photonics and optics industries, a legacy established by companies like Kodak, Bausch + Lomb, and Xerox. He touched on how essential those companies were to scientific advancement as well as the regions economic climate, and how devastating it was to lose so many of those jobs to bankruptcy and outsourcing.

"You were hit very hard. I don't need to tell all of you, those days are gone, but in place of the three giants there are now hundreds of nimble innovative businesses that are continuing this city's legacy in optics, and making you the optics capital of the world. You've gone from making Brownie cameras to lenses that are now photographing the far side of Pluto."

Biden says this is also an important step in the future of American manufacturing towards what he calls "insourcing," meaning it will create and attract jobs here in the US instead of overseas.

There is no official word as to where the institute will be headquartered, but University of Rochester President Joel Seligman says he's pushing to have it in the city, specifically, the Sibley Building. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter says she wants to move forward as quickly as possible, starting with a stakeholders meeting in early August.