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Optics and Photonics  (OP) Crosscutting Programs

Name Dir/Div Name Dir/Div
Victor  Roytburd MPS/DMS Kevin  Clancey MPS/DMS
Rosemary  . Renaut Edward  Ajhar MPS/AST
Glen  Langston MPS/AST Tingyu  Li MPS/CHE
Paul  E. Sokol Charles  Ying MPS/DMR
Michael  J. Cavagnero MPS/PHY John  Gillaspy MPS/OAD
Dominique  Dagenais ENG/ECCS Mahmoud  Fallahi
Leon  Esterowitz ENG/CBET Jack  Brassil CISE/CNS
Robert  D. Fleischmann BIO/DBI Christopher  Sanford


Optics and photonics are key enabling technologies that impact society in a multitude of areas, including information and communications, imaging and sensing, healthcare, energy, manufacturing, and national security. Building upon impressive progress in fundamental optical science and in nanotechnology in recent years, optics and photonics have become drivers for technological innovation and economic growth. It is a critical time to support fundamental research and catalyze development of disruptive technologies in optics and photonics that will strongly benefit the nation’s continued scientific and economic health as well as its future workforce. The goal of the Optics and Photonics program is to move beyond the present science and technology base and to lay the groundwork for major advances in scientific understanding and creation of high-impact technologies for the next decade and beyond.

The importance and timeliness of fundamental research in optics and photonics has been emphasized by recent publications, including:

The Optics and Photonics (OP) program is designed to address the critical national need to enhance the support of basic and early applied research in optics and photonics. The OP program is a crosscutting NSF activity; by providing a common program for submission and review of proposals in this important area, it seeks to promote activities that significantly accelerate optics and photonics research. The program encourages innovative research proposals on optics or photonics that are relevant to one or more Divisions in the Directorates for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), Engineering (ENG), Biological Sciences (BIO), and Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE).

Research in optics and photonics is currently supported through core programs residing in all NSF Directorates. Because the field is inherently interdisciplinary in nature, often requiring expertise across traditional disciplinary boundaries, the Optics and Photonics program aims to enhance support of the research community in achieving breakthrough scientific and technological progress through comprehensive coverage of research in optics and photonics across various disciplines. A working group comprising representatives of all participating NSF funding units will coordinate review of proposals on optics and photonics. The group will ensure that proposals are reviewed by the most suitable NSF program and will coordinate co-review by more than one NSF program when appropriate. Through this mechanism to promote sharing of proposals that cross disciplinary boundaries, the OP program recognizes the importance of optics and photonics and its interdisciplinary nature.

Proposals centered on optics or photonics research should be submitted to the appropriate program solicitation or program description identified by the NSF Division (see the information below). Proposals must comply with the requirements of the corresponding program description or program solicitation. Investigators should identify OP proposals by including the three characters “OP:” at the beginning of the proposal title. This designation will serve to bring the proposal to the attention of the crosscutting OP working group. The due date for any proposal is the due date for submission to the particular program.

Investigators are invited to indicate appropriate secondary NSF programs for co-review of a proposal. Proposals on optics and photonics that would particularly benefit from joint review should be submitted to a primary program with secondary program(s) in another Division(s) identified in the Proposal Cover Sheet. Principal Investigators are encouraged to discuss their prospective proposals with appropriate Program Directors in the participating programs. Proposals identified with the "OP:" tag will be considered in regular meetings of the OP working group. Proposals deemed appropriate for potential co-funding will be reviewed according to the requirements of the primary program, and highly-ranked proposals will be candidates for co-funding from other programs.

The complexity and challenge of research in optics and photonics may call for multi-institution teams. Collaborative Proposals involving two or more academic institutions may be appropriate. While not required, ties with industry, national laboratories, or other organizations are also welcome. If there are strong collaborations with industry, please see the Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) program solicitation, which can be used in conjunction with this effort.

Following are descriptions of areas of optics and photonics research emphasis within Divisions of the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), the Directorate for Engineering (ENG), the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), and the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). Proposals to the OP program must be submitted to one of the relevant Divisional programs indicated in the following.


Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences

The Optics and Photonics Subcommittee of the MPS Advisory Committee identified the following research areas as deserving particularly high priority for additional resources. These areas were chosen not only based on their great inherent intellectual merit within the discipline of optics and photonics, but also because of the impact research in these areas will have in advancing a far broader range of science and technology.

  • Plasmonics and nanophotonics: controlling optical fields and propagation on the nanoscale
  • Coherent electromagnetic fields: attosecond time scales and x-ray photon energies
  • Optomechanical interactions: from single-molecule mechanics to macroscopic quantum states
  • Seeing beyond the diffraction limit and new imaging modalities
  • Creating and controlling quantum coherence with light
  • Controlling molecules with light and light with molecules
  • Observing the universe: optics and photonics for astronomy and astrophysics

The OP program in MPS explicitly addresses research proposals that are relevant either to one discipline represented in MPS or lying at the interface of applied mathematics, statistics, and the core science disciplines of astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and materials research. Proposals are expected to be relevant to mathematical and physical sciences.

Astronomy (AST): Optics and photonics research in AST has traditionally centered on adaptive optics and the development and characterization of detectors at optical and infrared wavelengths. In addition, topics of current interest for AST include (1) innovative approaches to imaging and sensing, including in the frequency range 50 GHz to 50 THz and adaptation of quantum technologies such as superconducting quantum interference devices, nanowires, transition-edge sensors, and bolometers for astronomy, (2) novel data acquisition systems integrated within these devices, and (3) novel adaptive optics systems operating at all wavelengths, including approaches that incorporate advances in the science of light propagation through dispersive and turbulent media. AST encourages interdisciplinary research in collaboration with other divisions of NSF. Relevant AST programs are:

Additionally, proposals to the AST Division concerned with the indicated topics and submitted under NSF- wide programs such as the Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) or the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) may be designated via the "OP:" tag for consideration by the Optics and Photonics program.

Chemistry (CHE): The OP program encourages innovative ideas related to light-matter interactions at the molecular and nanoscale size ranges that offer new ways of observing and possibly manipulating chemical processes using electromagnetic radiation. This encompasses synthesis, assembly, and characterization of molecular and nanoscale systems including, but not limited to, those that are plasmonic in nature. New approaches are sought that could impact one or more areas including (1) sub-wavelength resolution detection/imaging, (2) enhanced linear and non-linear spectroscopic signals to gain new chemical information unobtainable with existing methods, (3) increased light capture and/or local electromagnetic fields to alter molecular properties and improve reactivity and/or catalytic activity, (4) new theoretical and computational approaches to describe light-matter interactions. Relevant CHE programs are:

Additionally, proposals to the CHE Division concerned with the indicated topics and submitted under the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) may be designated via the "OP:" tag for consideration by the Optics and Photonics program.

Materials Research (DMR): Design, synthesis and characterization of new solid-state materials, or innovative combinations of materials, that enable novel optical properties including, but not limited to, plasmonics, nanophotonics (with features assembled including a bottom-up approach with sizes smaller than 100 nanometers), single- or few-photon emission and detection, quantum coherence control, biophotonics, and optomechanical interactions. Research on metamaterials and quantum materials with novel optical properties are particularly welcome. Interdisciplinary research in collaboration with another division in MPS and/or with a non-MPS directorate is a high priority. Relevant DMR programs are:

Mathematical Sciences (DMS): Mathematical modeling and simulation play a central role in the theory of optical systems and photonic structures. Statistical analysis plays a central role in experimental research. Current research problems in optics and photonics involve phenomena across a wide range of spatial scales. Among others, topics of particular interest to DMS are: (1) Research on light-matter interaction, including but not limited to low-loss metamaterials, plasmonics, and quantum phenomena; (2) Multiphysics coupling between classical electromagnetic and quantum mechanical phenomena; (3) The science of light propagation and imaging through scattering, dispersive, and turbulent media, which encompasses advances in radiative transport theory, statistical inverse theory, numerical inversion methods, simulation models, and hybrid imaging models; (4) Nonlinear photonics and interplay between nonlinearity and randomness. Relevant DMS programs are:

Physics (PHY): Optics and photonics research is contained in a wide range of programs in the Physics Division, both theoretical and experimental. Examples include, but are not limited to, science in the quantum limit, with applications such as optomechanics, quantum control, and single-photon sources and detectors; advances in ultrashort and ultraintense electromagnetic physics, such as collective wave-particle interactions in plasmas or high harmonic generation and their application to problems in fundamental science; in optics for interferometric gravitational wave detection; ‪uncovering the physical principles in living systems. Research may involve collaborative efforts between theory and experiment. Highest priority will be given to proposals that lie at the intersections between physics subfields or between physics and other related fields.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Relevant PHY programs are:‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬


Directorate for Engineering

Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET): The Biophotonics program supports fundamental engineering research and innovation in photonics required to lay the foundations for new technologies in medical diagnostics and therapies. Of particular interest are: (1) Novel technologies such as optogenetics to examine epigenetic changes associated with health and disease; (2) Molecularly specific sensing (molecular photonics), imaging, and monitoring systems with high sensitivity and resolution; (3) Contrast and targeting agents with high specificity for rapid biomarker screening; (4) Integration of photonics, molecular biology, and material science for low cost and minimally invasive medical diagnostics and therapies. The relevant CBET program is:

Electrical, Communications, and Cyber Systems (ECCS): The Electronics, Photonics, and Magnetic Devices (EPMD) program supports a wide range of optics and photonics research. Areas of interest include: Improving fundamental understanding of optoelectronic devices based on the principles of nonlinear optics, quantum optics, or ultrafast photonics. Novel photonic devices based on organic, inorganic, or hybrid materials on flexible substrates are also of interest, as well as metamaterials and plasmonics, or emerging 2D atomic-layered materials as well as topological photonic structures. Advancing the frontiers from EUV to THz in optical sources (such as high power, tunable, broadband, frequency comb and ultrafast lasers and arrays) and photodetectors. Novel optical communication devices, photonic integrated circuits, single-photon quantum devices, and nano-photonics. Related areas of interest include innovative optical imaging and sensing and solar cell photovoltaics. As part of its Communications, Circuits, and Sensing Systems (CCSS) program, ECCS also supports integration technologies at both intra- and inter-chip levels, new and advanced optical guided, wireless, or hybrid communications systems architectures, and sensing and imaging systems at optical frequencies. Relevant ECCS programs are:


Directorate for Biological Sciences

Biological Infrastructure (DBI): The Instrument Development for Biological Research (IDBR) Program supports the development, production, and distribution of novel instrumentation that addresses demonstrated needs in biological research in areas supported by NSF Biology programs. Of particular interest are proposals for the development of novel instrumentation that provides new research capabilities or, where appropriate, that significantly improves current technologies by at least an order of magnitude in fundamental aspects such as accuracy, precision, resolution, throughput, flexibility, breadth of application, costs of construction or operation, or user- friendliness. The relevant DBI program is:


Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering

Computer and Network Systems (CNS): Of particular interest are proposals concerning research on novel terabit/second and above communication systems, especially those integrating devices and systems that advance the state of the art in networking, high-performance computing, and computer architecture. Examples of potential novel research include optical networks and silicon photonics. Relevant CNS programs are:


How to Apply

Proposals centered on optics or photonics research should be submitted to the appropriate program solicitation or program description identified by the NSF Division (see the information above). Proposals must comply with the requirements of the corresponding program description or program solicitation. Investigators should identify OP proposals by including the three characters “OP:” at the beginning of the proposal title. This designation will serve to bring the proposal to the attention of the crosscutting OP working group. The due date for any proposal is the due date for submission to the particular program. The participating programs are listed alphabetically below.