MIT’s AIM Photonics Academy helped organize a gathering of more than 60 people at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, earlier this month to explore opportunities in integrated photonics, and discuss possibilities for a large investment to create a Lab for Education and Application Prototypes (LEAP) in integrated photonics there.
Attendees included representatives from companies, colleges, and universities, the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Program, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and aides to U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III.
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,” Cheryl Schnitzer, an associate professor of chemistry at Stonehill College, said at the Nov. 14 event. “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 Commonwealth 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.
MIT received funding for the first LEAP facility, with a focus on packaging. The MIT Lab for Education and 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 in its final stages of planning will be located at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and will also serve nearby Quinsigamond Community College. AIM Photonics Academy and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are also in discussions to build four more LEAP Labs, including one at Stonehill College, which would 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.”
Because integrated photonics “is a technology that originated in Massachusetts, at MIT,” said Lionel Kimerling, AIM Photonics Academy executive director and professor in the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the state is an optimal location for this initiative to take place.
“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.