ARCHIVED - Ottawa's Photonics Cluster -- Lighting the Way for Canada's 21st Century Economy

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May 06, 2006— Ottawa, Ontario

Some of the world's best known leaders and thinkers have delivered timeless quotes that capture the importance of partnerships in achieving success. Bill Gates famously boiled Microsoft's achievements down to a simple recipe when he said, "our success has really been based on partnerships from the very beginning." As part of its mission to stimulate the growth of world-class technology clusters in communities across Canada, the National Research Council too has put local and international collaborations at the forefront of its success strategy. Ottawa's world-renowned photonics cluster is a vibrant illustration of NRC's belief in the power of partnerships.

Glove Box and Metal Organic Chemical Vapour Deposition
Glove Box and Metal Organic Chemical Vapour Deposition

Ottawa's photonics cluster has always been rooted in a tradition of community cooperation. As far back as the late 1980's, NRC brought cluster players like Bell-Northern Research, local businesses and universities together to collaborate on critical research and development. Flash forward two decades later, and NRC is still working its relationships with private, public, national and international partners to maintain Canada's leadership foothold in the photonics industry.

Clusters 101

Clustering is a term that economists have borrowed from science to describe the growth of a concentration of innovative companies around a nucleus of R&D facilities. Community integration is key to technology cluster success -- this means business entrepreneurs, R&D leaders, government and the financial community meeting at the table to discuss needs and new ideas.


NRC research facilities across Canada have served as central hubs for dynamic technology clusters in diverse areas of science and engineering. As a result, Ottawa's has the most vibrant photonics cluster in Canada and is among the top five in the world.


The most noteworthy (and newsworthy) collaboration to date was NRC's 2002 decision to bring Carleton University, the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada together to form the NRC Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre (NRC-CPFC). This $43 million investment supports growth of Ottawa's photonics cluster by offering industry players a suite of leading edge commercialization and prototyping services. The facility gives local companies a competitive leg-up worldwide and helps reduce their time to market. For their work in spearheading the construction of this world-class facility, NRC was honoured with the "Technology Partnership of the Year" award from the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) in the Spring of 2006.

But NRC's work in igniting the growth of Ottawa's photonics cluster goes far beyond the bricks and mortar of the NRC Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre. This past fall, NRC-CPFC and the New York state-based Infotonics Technology Centre signed an agreement acknowledging that there is strength in numbers when it comes to the competitive international photonics industry. This international agreement gives both players a chance to identify unique areas of collaboration that have typically been reserved for private industry partners, including:

  1. providing each organization's respective clients with unparalleled design, prototyping and pilot production capabilities, second to none in the world;
  2. identifying opportunities for the complementary use of facilities, staff, equipment and expertise to conduct collaborative, joint projects;
  3. the ability to engage in cross-referrals as appropriate.

Most recently, in November 2005, NRC was a key leader in the formation of the International Photonics Commercialization Alliance (IPCA), a North American alliance that provides links between Canadian and American photonic organizations. IPCA is a central alliance that links clusters, companies and technology commercialization centers and provides international leadership and support as photonic technologies go through the commercialization process. Staying true to NRC's vision of building and growing local clusters of innovation across Canada, the alliance is helping to cultivate an environment where entrepreneurs, investors and researchers can exchange ideas.

Although NRC's belief in the power of collaborations isn't new thinking, it is no-doubt smart thinking. Thousands of years ago, Plato taught that "a whole is more than, or greater than, the sum of its parts." Without man's belief in this ancient philosophy, space exploration, the telephone, the Internet, vaccines and even sunscreen would not have been possible. As NRC continues pushing the boundaries of national and cross-border collaborations, innovative communities, new companies, jobs and research and development are growing in our country that will change our lives forever.

Ottawa's Photonics Cluster – Global Reach, Local Touch

In addition to serving the needs of industry by providing photonics prototypes and mini-production runs, NRC-CPFC is often called upon to carry out the 'de-risking' of technology and investment for Canadian start ups.

  • In the last year alone, three of NRC-CPFC's clients have been able to secure venture capital funding for promising products. What does this mean on a more regional scale? These firms have hired a combined total of 24 employees with additional growth expected.

Access to the NRC-CPFC fabrication environment for Canadian universities is being coordinated by the federally incorporated, non-profit organization CMC Microsystems.

  • Over the last year, a total of 18 separate prototyping runs have been delivered to Canadian university researchers.

NRC-CPFC is also a national centre for learning. Carleton University coordinates the facility's formal training component and is the lead organization in developing and implementing the NRC-CPFC's training and education strategy.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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