Monday, May 6, 2013

Karen Diaz—a Photonics Technician

What affects a person’s choice to become a photonics technician? What personal strengths and commitment does it take to enter this career? What are the rewards?
These questions can be answered by examining the backgrounds, interests, character traits and career opportunities of successful photonics technician graduates. OP-TEC’s Photonics Alumni Council for Technicians (PACT) has recently added 15 new members and presents biographies of these distinguished graduates to serve as role models for capable young students who have the interest, desire and commitment to enter the variety of rewarding careers in this field. Many of these PACT members were not performing at the top of their high school classes, for a variety of reasons, but something caught their attention and focused their efforts to obtain an AAS degree in photonics.  We need many more photonics techs than we are producing to support our country’s defense, innovation and economic prosperity. Does this sound like something you would like to do?
Karen Diaz considers herself lucky: she gets to experience firsthand the incredible way that electronics, mathematics, and physics work in harmony. As a student at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), Karen initially completed an associ­ate of applied science program in electronics and computer engineering technology. Upon earning her degree, Karen decided that an additional degree in laser photon­ics would offer an even broader spectrum of job opportunities, so she continued at CCCC, ultimately earning an associate degree in lasers and photonics technol­ogy. Once she enrolled in the program, she found herself fascinated by what she was learning. “I took the chance to try something new,” she says, “and found that I loved it.” Karen was also eager to take advantage of the many opportunities available to women in technology. “As a female,” she explains, “there are so many opportunities for me in the engineering field. At the time I graduated, photonics seemed to be an up-and-coming field with lots of options.”

While Karen was enrolled at CCCC, she also focused on gaining valuable work experience. At first, she worked as an information and communication intern for Progress Energy, where she did everything from building a relay-testing panel to designing electrical schematics. Later, she worked as a contractor for both Power Equip­ment Maintenance and The Atlantic Group. As a contractor, she calibrated plant equipment and performed maintenance activities. The variety of experience she gained confirmed her suspicions that photonics was the right subject matter for her. “This field is so broad,” she explains, “that I have found myself in situations where I have to apply the knowledge that I learned in electronics and computer engineering.” By the time she graduated in May 2012, she was ready to advance her career and continue her education.

Currently, Karen is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Duke University, where she works as an intern in the photon­ics and spectroscopy lab. Karen’s internship has given her additional experience in Python and MATLAB pro­gramming, optics handling, and components testing. At Duke, Karen is able to apply everything she has learned in her education so far, including electronics engineering, computer engineering, and laser and photonics tech­nology. One of the things she most appreciates about her photonics career is the opportunity to face something new and interesting every day. For example, she is currently working on the revolutionary MOSAIC gigapixel camera. “I am proud to be involved in such a revolutionary project,” Karen explains. This camera “can poten­tially change the way we take photographs, as well as the media industry.”

Karen believes that students considering a career in photonics will be amazed by the many opportunities that the field offers. She acknowledges that many students are intimidated by the amount of physics and mathematics involved in photonics. Initially, she, too, was worried about her physics courses, but she stuck with them and now says that physics is “really not that hard.” She urges those interested in a technical field to stick with their studies so that they can see all that photonics has to offer.

Karen has been offered the opportunity to work in Research Triangle Park, but she has decided to focus instead on earning her bachelor’s degree. She believes that a bachelor’s degree will give her career an extra boost and al­low her to advance more easily.

Karen lives in Durham, North Carolina. She happily dedicates most of her time to her education and her work, but in her spare time, she enjoys reading and watching movies with her family.



Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What Factors Affect Students to Enroll in AAS Technical Programs?

A report on a recent study commissioned by OP-TEC provides enlightenment on what is needed to help colleges recruit more students.

It is based on interviews with 70 "new students" at six colleges throughout the USA to determine what factors affected their decision to enroll in photonics  technician AAS degree programs  The results are revealing & somewhat unexpected, particularly the low influence of the high school counselor. I personally think that the implications go beyond photonics, to most all the technical areas served by ATE. The paper can be accessed and downloaded from the OP-TEC web site . If you don't have time to read the entire paper, just go to the charts of results; it may surprise you. Here are a few examples:


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Are You Teaching About Fiber Lasers?

The emergence of high power fiber lasers, and their applications, is one of the most significant photonics breakthroughs in the last decade. Fiber lasers consist of a long “fiber-optic active laser medium,” pumped primarily by diode lasers directed into the fiber cladding.

They have CW outputs exceeding 10KW and can produce output pulses as short as 10 picoseconds. Because the pump light from the diode lasers lies in the absorption bands of the fiber laser active medium, the conversion of input electrical power to output laser power is highly efficient (30-40% efficiency, as compared to gas and solid lasers with efficiencies below 1%).

Average output powers from fiber lasers can reach as high as 10KW. Fiber lasers can operate in the CW mode or in various pulse modes; even picosecond pulses.

Because fiber lasers are smaller, more efficient, lighter weight, less costly, and their output beams are easier to manipulate than CO2 or Nd:YAG lasers, they are becoming the laser of choice for many materials processing applications, such as welding, drilling, cutting and etching of metals, plastics, ceramics, glass etc.

An excellent one-hour webcast is available for you to update your knowledge and understanding of fiber lasers at  (Click on the red Register Now button for on-demand viewing.)
OP-TEC has developed two instructional modules on fundamentals and applications of fiber lasers. They can be previewed at We have also identified inexpensive equipment and designed labs to accompany the modules.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Train Additional Photonics Faculty Using OP-TEC's Hybrid Online Faculty Development Course

Excellent faculty is the key to a strong, high quality, photonics AAS degree program. Faculty members are the “first line” to the students; they recruit, teach, encourage and counsel students; they develop and control the labs; and they help grads to find their jobs. When faculty members are well-prepared and supported, photonics education programs are healthy and growing; when they are overburdened, poorly supported or approaching retirement, their programs suffer.

So, who teaches the Photonics courses when you aren’t available? Who can pick up additional teaching assignments when enrollments increase? One of the best ways you can assure the continued success of your photonics program is to develop another faculty member who is competent and prepared to teach the classes.

Additional photonics teachers may come from at least three sources.
  • Recruiting other faculty members who are teaching related courses (electronics, instrumentation, manufacturing, etc.). This is how some of you entered the photonics field.
  • Developing adjuncts from local photonics industries is another excellent source; they also may be able to enhance the relevance of the courses by sharing from their work experiences. And they may be able to assist in updating course content or in creating/teaching specialty courses.
  • Training high school science and technology teachers for teaching dual-credit courses, and encouraging their students to consider photonics as a career.

OP-TEC recently completed its 2012 Employer Needs Assessment for Photonics Technicians. Although the results are still being analyzed, I can tell you that the demand for new photonics techs remains very strong. Most of you already know this because your recent grads are receiving multiple job offers. And the demand for colleges to provide photonics training for employed techs has produced an additional challenge that we all must address more aggressively in the next year.

From time to time you may receive a notice regarding OP-TEC's Hybrid, Online Faculty Development Courses in Photonics. In one-on-one conversations with photonics faculty, I have discussed the need to train additional faculty at your institutions and at nearby high schools. I would encourage you to consider promoting this option. As your Photonics program continues to grow you will need the flexibility of having other faculty and teachers who can step in and help you. And it doesn't have to cost a lot of $$ to do this.

OP-TEC will admit to these courses, without charge, additional faculty at your institution, potential industry adjuncts, and teachers at local high schools in your service area. They will be enrolled on a "first come-first served" basis; and we have made arrangements for more students to enroll in these courses. One course requirement is that course participants are asked to travel to an OP-TEC partner college to take a 3-day “capstone” lab experience. This past year Chrys Panayiotou, at Indian River State College, enrolled several faculty and teachers from his college and nearby high schools. To save them the cost of traveling to another college to attend the capstones, Chrys has provided the capstone experiences for his faculty and teachers in his labs. I would encourage you to consider a similar arrangement with OP-TEC.

All we ask at OP-TEC, is that the faculty/teachers are committed to completing the entire course, including the capstone experience.

OP-TEC’s next Hybrid, Online Faculty Development Offering, Fundamentals of Light and Lasers, is now available for qualified applicants. This course starts August 20, 2012! It is in an Open Entry/Open Exit format, so applicants can begin any time after this date, as long as they can complete it by May 15, 2013. Cost: No tuition or materials fees!

This hybrid, online course will cover OP-TEC's Course 1, Fundamentals of Light and Lasers. Each of the six modules contained within the course will be taught online with a high level of self-paced instruction combined with an interactive component facilitated by email exchanges and online discussions. Modules will cover topics that span a broad range of basic photonics concepts.

After the completion of the six modules, participants typically spend a 3-day period at an OP-TEC partner college where they have the opportunity to conduct all laboratory experiments included in the course and discuss with experienced instructors best practices for teaching the materials. The 3-day laboratory experience for the courses starting in August 2012 will be scheduled for June 2013 and will be arranged at dates that are mutually agreeable to the participants. But you can save the cost of your participant’s travel to attend this “capstone” experience if you are able to provide the lab experiences at your location, like Chrys is doing this year. If there is sufficient interest, I will ask Fred Seeber, who conducts the “capstone” at Camden County College, and Chrys Panayiotou to conduct a webinar that will provide guidance for all of you who want to conduct your own capstone.

Participants that successfully complete the OE/OE online course and a 3-day lab session will receive a certification of completion from OP-TEC. Participants will be responsible for travel, lodging, and meals for the 3-day lab sessions held at Partner Colleges in June 2013.

Visit for more information and to apply online!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Free Optics and Photonics Publications and Webinars

College faculty and high school teachers of optics, lasers and photonics have a need to “stay current” to new developments and applications in the field. Professional networks and attendance at conferences are certainly useful, but opportunities to attend these meetings are limited to the availability of your time and travel $$. Another way to do this, from your office or computer, is by receiving publication and attending webinars from free trade journals.

I have identified at least 12 free publications that contain the latest technical information and news. Some are general photonics pubs; others are publications in photonics applications, such as materials processing, telecommunications, bio optics, etc. If you want to receive any or all of these pubs, just click on the URLs provided by their titles. In it are the web site locations for you to sign up for the pubs. It's pretty easy, or I wouldn't be able to do it.

In many cases, you may select the digital (e-mailed) version, or have the hard copy mailed to you. I review all of these pubs; mostly I just receive the electronic versions; they're much quicker to review. But you may want to receive hard copies so that you can distribute them to your students. At least twice/year they will publish a Buyer's Guide. Once/year they publish a "directory".

Free publications from Pennwell:

BioOptics World :

Industrial Laser Solution:

Laser Focus World:


Vision Systems Design:

The website is powered by BioOptics World (from Pennwell) and has many good links and much information.

Free publications from Laurin Publishing:


Photonics Spectra:

Photovoltaics World:

Solid State Technology:

Free Digital and E-newsletters:

LEDs Magazine:

Edmund Optics:

Electro Optics:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The World-Wide Laser Industry Has Recovered Quickly

Despite a 30% dip in 2009, the world-wide laser industry recovered over 27% in 2010, to $6.37 billion; it is expected to grow over 12% in 2011 to $7.1 billion, according to the LFW Annual Laser Market Report.

As shown in the chart, 2/3 of the market is in the Communications and Materials Processing industries.

Diode lasers amount for 51% of the market and non-diode lasers account for 49%. One of the largest growth areas is fiber lasers, experiencing a 41% growth in 2010 and an even greater rate in 2011.

The demand for new laser technicians continued to outstrip the supply by over 4:1. Colleges report that 2010 grads received multiple job offers again in 2010. Job prospects for this year also look very good.

Reference: Overton, Gail, Anderson, Stephen G, Belforte, David A., & Hausken, Tom (2011). Skies may be clearing, but fog still lingers. Laser Focus World, January 2011, 40-42.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Restoring Declining AAS Programs Using Emerging Technologies

In the last several years many colleges across our country have experienced a decline in enrollment and graduates from their technician education programs. Five colleges have experienced this in photonics-related programs. As OP-TEC attempts to build national capacity for preparing photonics techs we have concentrated on these declining programs--and we are experiencing very rewarding results in every case. The declining, or recently closed programs often have valuable labs and equipment that newly developing programs might take 3-5 years to accumulate.

But the declining programs frequently have some "baggage" that has to be eliminated. This may be in the form of some outdated curricula, courses, lab equipment, inactive employer advisory committees--and faculty. Eliminating this "baggage" is not easy for technical deans and department chairs; it takes an understanding of emerging technologies and their implications on technician careers. It also requires that the administrators have the courage and institutional support to make some very difficult changes.

Over the last 3-4 years this restoration process that has been successfully achieved at Tri-County Technical College, in Pendleton SC. TCTC was one of OP-TEC's original Partner Colleges, when we began the Center over four years ago. But TCTC had to drop out for several years until they could re-establish their focus in photonics education.

The background, strategies, process, curricula and results of TCTC’s restoration is documented in an OP-TEC Monograph entitled “Restoring a Declining Photonics Program at Tri-County Technical College.” The monograph can be read or downloaded, without cost from OP-TEC’s web site, by clicking the monograph title above.

This is a relatively brief monograph, but it shows the causes, the restoration process and the results. Of particular interest is the Lessons Learned section, which emphasizes the following success factors:
• Persistence
• Having the right people in right position
• New curriculum strategies
• Technical assistance, mentoring and partnerships with other photonics colleges.

Eugene Grant, Dean of Industrial & Engineering Technology, Tri-County Technical College, is to be congratulated for his efforts in restoring Photonics Education at TCTC.

Dan Hull