Integrating the promise of photonics

60 from industry and academia gather for three-day immersion into designing complex optical circuits during AIM Photonics Academy winter session.
AIM Photonics Academy Winter Large Group Seated DP 0706 Web
AIM Photonics Winter Academy drew more than 60 people together at MIT Jan. 16-18,2018, for lectures and design labs on integrated photonics. Photo, Denis Paiste, MIT MRL.

How can driverless cars detect obstructions when it’s foggy outside? What new forms of light communications can supercharge the internal housekeeping of data centers to enable ever faster cloud computing? Can we detect a gas leak along a 1,000-mile pipeline remotely, at ultralow cost? These were some of the questions students investigated at an AIM Photonics Academy training session.

More than 60 people gathered at MIT on Jan. 16, 2018, for three days of lectures and design labs on integrated photonics. The program was organized by AIM Photonics Academy, which is part of AIM Photonics Institute, one of 14 institutes jointly funded with federal government to accelerate advanced manufacturing in the United States. Attendees, mostly from industry, came from the U.S. and abroad.

Integrated photonics uses complex optical circuits to process and transmit signals of light, similar to the routing of electrical signals in a computer microchip. Students learned how to design device components and lay out photonic integrated circuits (PICs), for submission to AIM’s multi-project wafer facility in Albany. They also learned about different applications for PICs, including datacom, sensors and LIDAR for driverless cars.

Critical partnership

The technology is still emerging, and companies are looking for outside training to fill in the gaps they are unable to fill by themselves. Lockheed Martin’s AIM Program Manager Nick Rhenwrick described why he has been sending employees to AIM Academy trainings: “This partnership is critical for accelerating the adoption of Photonic Integrated Chip technology across our enterprise.”

The three-day AIM Winter Academy is part of a suite of AIM Academy education and training offerings. AIM Photonics Academy will post teaching packages and roll out online self-paced courses in integrated photonics that will be available for free on its website, and in the spring will begin rolling out edX courses to give students critical hands-on experience designing photonic integrated circuits.

These initiatives are geared for higher-skilled learners. Concurrently, AIM Photonics Academy is committed to introducing younger students to integrated photonics, and is working with TED-Ed to create three videos for students in K-12.

Sharing know-how widely

Education director Sajan Saini spoke about the feedback he received from students in the Winter Academy, “They’re excited about the new technology, want to figure out how to deploy it, and are committed to the time and effort needed to master fabless photonics tools. The time is ripe to disseminate our online and onsite teaching content as broadly as possible.”

Photonic integrated circuits have the potential to offer blockbuster solutions for driverless cars, data centers, gas sensors and microwave communications in the coming years. The emergence of an expert manufacturing platform and multiple applications-driven demands are the hallmarks of an extended period of industrial innovation, and integrated photonics is primed to offer high-performance, efficient solutions.

back to newsletter– Julie Diop, Materials Research Laboratory
January 25, 2018