AIM Photonics Academy looks to expand education and prototype labs to more schools

Stonehill College meeting puts laser focus on enhancing regional integrated photonics training.

Lionel Kimerling AIM Photonics RMorgan Web
MIT AIM Photonics Academy Executive Lionel Kimerling speaks during a meeting at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., on Nov. 14, 2017. “With the help of the state, Massachusetts can be the Silicon Valley for the growth of ultra-high performance communications systems using integrated photonics,” Kimerling said. Photo, Rich Morgan

MIT’s AIM Photonics Academy helped organize a gathering of more than 60 people at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., on Nov. 14, 2017, to explore opportunities in integrated photonics, and discuss possibilities for a large investment to create a Lab for Education & Application Prototypes (LEAP) in integrated photonics at the college. Attendees came from companies, colleges and universities, the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Program, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and aides to U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-Mass.

Integrated photonics uses complex optical circuits to process and transmit signals of light, similar to the routing of electrical signals in a computer microchip. In contrast to the electrical transmission in a microchip, a photonic integrated circuit can transmit multiple information channels simultaneously using different wavelengths of light with minimal interference and energy loss to enable high-bandwidth, low-power communications.

“Students need to be prepared for the jobs that are coming,” said Dr. Cheryl Schnitzer, associate professor of chemistry at Stonehill College. “It’s our obligation to teach them about the exploding field of photonics and integrated photonics.”

MIT’s AIM Photonics Academy is the education and workforce development arm of the AIM Photonics Institute, one of 14 Manufacturing USA institutes launched as part of a federal initiative to revitalize American manufacturing. The federal government has committed $110 million to the AIM Photonics Institute over five years. At the same time, the state of Massachusetts will spend $100 million on projects related to colleges and industry within the state, including $28 million to help launch AIM Photonics projects such as LEAP facilities.

Anu Agarwal AIM Photonics RMorgan Web
Anu Agarwal, MIT Principal Research Scientist, speaks during an AIM Photonics Academy meeting at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., on Nov. 14, 2017. Stonehill is considering creation of a Lab for Education & Application Prototypes (LEAP) in integrated photonics at the college. Photo, Rich Morgan

MIT received funding for the first LEAP facility, with a focus on packaging. The MIT Lab for Education & Application Prototypes is currently housed in Building 35, and will relocate to the fifth floor of MIT.nano in June 2018. A second LEAP site is in its final stages of planning at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and it will also serve Quinsigamond Community College. AIM Photonics Academy and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are in discussions to build four more LEAP Labs, including one at Stonehill College to serve the southeastern corner of the state. Once up and running, these labs will form a training network that helps Massachusetts become a major hub for photonics technology.

The meeting at Stonehill College, which also included the NextFlex Flexible Hybrid Electronics manufacturing innovation institute, generated many plans. The college has already connected with Bridgewater State and Bristol Community Colleges about creating photonic tracks in their programs. A team from AIM Photonics Academy, Stonehill College and MassTech will begin visiting companies to follow up on how they might get engaged in a LEAP Lab at Stonehill.

Companies were enthusiastic about the opportunity to expand in these areas, as well. “Any time you add high-tech education to an area, you are going to incubate high-tech companies,” noted John Lescinskas of Brockton Electro-Optics. “You’re planting a seed. It can lead to a tree, or even a forest.”

Massachusetts is an optimal location for this initiative to take place. Integrated photonics “is a technology that originated in Massachusetts, at MIT,” said AIM Photonics Academy Executive Lionel Kimerling. “With the help of the state, Massachusetts can be the Silicon Valley for the growth of ultra-high performance communications systems using integrated photonics,” Kimerling said.

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Julie Diop, Program Manager, AIM Photonics Academy
November 27, 2017