Friday, December 11, 2009

Photonics Colleges Receive “High School Pipeline” Grants

Many colleges that offer educational programs in emerging technical fields are making innovative changes in their curricula and student recruiting strategies. Their goal is to increase the number of students who enroll in and complete their programs, and to make their curriculum content more relevant to changes in employer requirements for technicians. This is especially true for colleges with photonics programs.
  • Photonics specialties are being designed to build on a “systems-oriented” technical core that is capable of supporting related technologies such as robotics, telecommunication, microelectronics, and biomedical equipment. These revitalized programs have a broader student appeal than more narrowly focused programs because they prepare students to pursue interesting, rewarding careers in multiple advanced technologies.

  • Targeted recruiting efforts to build the “high school pipeline” have been created using cost-effective strategies designed to inform teachers and students about career opportunities in photonics and related fields and the requirements for entering and succeeding in postsecondary photonics education programs. In many cases, students can begin those programs while they are still in high school through dual-credit courses.

In the last three years, several of OP-TEC’s Partner Colleges have incorporated both of these strategies - resulting in an impressive 15-50% increase in student enrollment over the last two years. The colleges have documented their methodologies and achievements in monographs that have become models for photonics program improvement. Other photonics colleges have begun to adopt these “best practices,” hoping to realize similar improvements.

Two colleges that are rebuilding their photonics technician programs in an impressive manner are Central New Mexico Community College (CNMCC) and Monroe Community College (MCC). Over the last several years the well-established optics and photonics programs at these institutions have experienced severe declines in enrollment due to faculty retirement and an obvious need to update their curricula and labs. Early this year, these two colleges, with new faculty and significant support from regional photonics employer clusters, engaged in program improvement initiatives that resulted in a redesigned curriculum core that supports OP-TEC photonics infusion courses. The colleges have also engaged in partnerships with nearby high schools to develop dual-credit courses in photonics.

This week OP-TEC will award $15,000 matching grants to each college to increase its enrollment through “high school pipeline” efforts.

  • CNMCC will use its grant to hire a dedicated high school recruiter who will meet with students, parents, and teachers at nearby high schools to inform them of career opportunities for photonics technicians and opportunities to enroll in CNMCC’s photonics program, even while still in high school. This effort is patterned after the model developed by Indian River State College. The New Mexico Optics Industry Association is sponsoring high school dual-credit photonics courses in an effort to jump-start the process. In the summer of 2010, CNMCC will also conduct two week-long “boot camps” for secondary students who are interested in photonics, using the model developed by the Northpointe two-year campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (an OP-TEC Partner College).
  • MCC will use its grant to fund two four-day training programs for high school science and math teachers that will take place in the summer of 2010. The teachers will be introduced to a variety of fundamental concepts pertinent to optics and photonics. They will also participate in lab experiments that apply the concepts. The objective is for the teachers to be able to replicate those experiments in their classrooms. Through the OP-TEC grant, MCC will provide supplies for the labs of the participating high school teachers. MCC is supporting the high school outreach efforts through the NY/Rochester Photonics Industry Cluster and several high school intermediary organizations.

Increasing the number of completers of postsecondary photonics technician programs is vital to the security and economic competitiveness of our country. The demand for photonics technicians by our nation’s employers far exceeds the supply currently being produced by our colleges. Early this year, OP-TEC commissioned a national study by the University of North Texas (UNT) to determine the number of new photonics technicians needed by U.S. employers. The study concluded that 2100 new photonics technicians will be needed in 2010 and that 5900 more will be needed over the next five years. Last year, OP-TEC surveyed U.S. two-year colleges to assess our nation’s ability to produce new technicians. The results of this survey showed that the U.S. has 28 photonics colleges with a combined enrollment of 780 photonics students and about 230 completers each year. Obviously, the gap between supply and demand - 2100 needed versus 230 supplied - is large. OP-TEC is attempting to close this gap in three ways:

  • Starting new photonics education programs (Three colleges began offering photonics for the first time this fall.)
  • Increasing student enrollment in and completion of existing photonics education programs through the “HS pipeline” initiative
  • Helping colleges provide photonics education for employed technicians

For more information about the OP-TEC/UNT study, or to download the report, please visit

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Laser and Optics Applications Modules

The applications of lasers, optics and fiber optics in energy, manufacturing, telecommunications, medicine, defense, environmental control and consumer products have expanded enormously in the last decade - and new applications (such as displays and solid-state lighting) are emerging daily. For this reason, Photonics (lasers, optics and fiber optics) is regarded as a critical “enabling technology”. And because of this role, the need for new photonics technicians has grown to an annual rate of more than 2,100 jobs in 2009. (OP-TEC Industry Survey)

Some of these jobs are being filled by recent graduates of the 30+ photonics colleges in the U.S. Others are being filled by the infusion of photonics education/training in these photonics-enabled fields. Some colleges that offer technician programs in these other fields are adding photonics education to their existing curricula. Others are restructuring their technical curricula into an “electronics systems core” with specialties in emerging fields like photonics. And many colleges are beginning to offer photonics courses to employed technicians that have been reassigned to jobs using photonics equipment and processes.

OP-TEC has responded to these educational needs in photonics by creating flexible curriculum and teaching modules that can be used to adapt programs and courses to the variety of education and training requirements needed by industry. These modules are configured in two categories:

Two Foundation Courses in Photonics: “The Basics”
  • Fundamentals of Light and Lasers (six modules)
  • Elements of Photonics (six modules)

Nineteen Application Modules in Lasers, Optics, Electro-Optics and Fiber Optics: "The Photonics Enabled Technologies (PET)"

Applications in Manufacturing:

  • Laser Welding & Surface Treatment
  • Laser Material Removal: Drilling, Cutting & Marking
  • Lasers in Testing & Measurement: Alignment, Profiling and Position Sensing
  • Lasers in Testing: Interferometric Methods and Nondestructive Testing

Applications in Defense and Homeland Security:

  • Lasers in Forensic Science & Homeland Security
  • Infrared Systems for Homeland Security
  • Imaging System Performance for Homeland Security Applications

Applications in Biomedicine:

  • Lasers in Medicine & Surgery
  • Therapeutic Applications of Lasers
  • Diagnostic Applications of Lasers

Applications in Environmental Monitoring:

  • Basics of Spectroscopy
  • Spectroscopy & Remote Sensing
  • Spectroscopy & Pollution Monitoring

Applications in Optoelectronics:

  • Photonics in Nanotechnology
  • Photonic Principles in Photovoltaic Cell Technology
  • Photonics in Nanotechnology Measurements: A Study of Atomic Force Microscopy

Other Applications:

  • Principles of Optical Fiber Communications
  • Photonic Devices for Imaging, Storage & Display
  • Basic Principles & Applications of Holography

These modules, based on The National Photonics Skill Standards for Technicians, have been reviewed by industry experts and tested in classes/labs. They are being used in a variety of technical education curricula to support the photonics content needed in areas that are enabled by photonics. They will also be used by faculty and others to learn about these new applications of photonics in their particular field of interest.

OP-TEC will continue to add to these PET modules as the needs arise. In 2010, we will be focusing on energy and solid state lighting applications.

For more information about OP-TEC’s PET modules or to obtain review copies, please click here to visit our website. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail us at

Monday, November 2, 2009

What would life be like without lasers? Part C - Using Lasers to Burn and Read CDs and DVDs

CDs and DVDs are everywhere these days. Whether they are used to hold music, data or computer software, they have become the standard medium for distributing large quantities of information in a reliable package. Compact discs are now easy and cheap to produce. If you have a computer and CD-R drive, you can create your own CDs, including any information you want.

The Disc
A CD is a fairly simple piece of plastic, about four one-hundredths (4/100) of an inch (1.2 mm) thick. Most of a CD consists of a piece of clear polycarbonate plastic, shaped like a disc. During manufacture, this plastic is impressed with microscopic bumps arranged as a single, continuous, extremely long spiral track of data. Once the clear piece of polycarbonate is formed, a thin, reflective aluminum layer is sputtered onto the disc, covering the bumps. Then a thin acrylic layer is sprayed over the aluminum to protect it. The label is then printed onto the acrylic. A cross section of a complete CD looks like this:
The Spiral
A CD has a single spiral track of data, circling from the inside of the disc to the outside. What the picture on the right does not even begin to impress upon you is how incredibly small the data track is -- it is approximately 0.5 microns wide, with 1.6 microns separating one track from the next. (A micron is a millionth of a meter.) And the bumps are even more miniscule...

The Bumps
The elongated bumps that make up the track are each 0.5 microns wide, a minimum of 0.83 microns long and 125 nanometers high. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.) Looking through the polycarbonate layer at the bumps, they look something like this:
The bumps are arranged in a spiral path, starting at the center of the disc. The CD player spins the disc while the laser assembly moves outward from the center of the CD.

CD Player Components
The CD player has the job of finding and reading the data stored as bumps on the CD. Considering how small the bumps are, the CD player is an exceptionally precise piece of equipment. The drive consists of three fundamental components:
  • A drive motor spins the disc.
  • A laser and a lens system focus in on and read the bumps.
  • A tracking mechanism moves the laser assembly so that the laser's beam can follow the spiral track.

You will often read about "pits" on a CD instead of bumps. They appear as pits on the aluminum side, but on the side the laser reads from, they are bumps.

The incredibly small dimensions of the bumps make the spiral track on a CD extremely long. If you could lift the data track off a CD and stretch it out into a straight line, it would be 0.5 microns wide and almost 3.5 miles (5 km) long! To read something this small you need an incredibly precise disc-reading mechanism. The key element in this mechanism is the pinpoint beam of a laser.

The fundamental job of the CD player is to focus the laser on the track of bumps. The laser beam passes through the polycarbonate layer, reflects off the aluminum layer and hits an opto-electronic device that detects changes in
light. The bumps reflect light differently than the "lands" (the rest of the aluminum layer), and the opto-electronic sensor detects that change in reflectivity. The electronics in the drive interpret the changes in reflectivity in order to read the bits that make up the bytes.

The hardest part is keeping the laser beam centered on the data track. This centering is the job of the tracking system. The tracking system, as it plays the CD, has to continually move the laser outward. As the laser moves outward from the center of the disc, the bumps move past the laser faster. Therefore, as the laser moves outward, the spindle motor must slow the speed of the CD. That way, the bumps travel past the laser at a constant speed, and the data comes off the disc at a constant rate.

CDs store music and other files in digital form -- that is, the information on the disc is represented by a series of 1s and 0s. In conventional CDs, these 1s and 0s are represented by millions of tiny bumps and flat areas on the disc's reflective surface.

To read this information, the CD player passes a
laser beam over the track. When the laser passes over a flat area in the track, the beam is reflected directly to an optical sensor on the laser assembly. The CD player interprets this as a 1. When the beam passes over a bump, the light is bounced away from the optical sensor. The CD player recognizes this as a 0.

The advent of CD burners marked a huge cultural shift. The technology made it feasible for the average person to gather songs and make their own CDs. Today, writable CD drives (CD burners) are standard equipment in new PCs, and more and more audio enthusiasts are adding separate CD burners to their stereo systems.

CD burners darken microscopic areas of CD-R discs to record a digital pattern of reflective and non-reflective areas that can be read by a standard CD player. Since the data must be accurately encoded on such a small scale, the burning system must be extremely precise.

In addition to the standard read laser, a CD burner has a write laser. The write laser is more powerful than the read laser, so it interacts with the disc differently: It alters the surface instead of just bouncing light off it. Read lasers are not intense enough to darken the dye material, so simply playing a CD-R in a CD drive will not destroy any encoded information.

Questions or comments? E-mail us!


Brain, Marshall. "How CDs Work." 01 April 2000. <> 02 November 2009.

Harris, Tom. "How CD Burners Work." 01 August 2001. <> 02 November 2009.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What would life be like without lasers? Part B - Lasers and Fiber Optics in High-Speed Internet & Smart Phones

The Internet, fax machines, smart phones, and other mobile devices are a way of life in modern society. All these technologies rely on lasers and fiber optics.

The properties of laser beams that allow them to be excellent carriers of high-data-rate signals (like high-speed Internet) are: 1) they are extremely high-frequency (0.3 GHz) carriers; and, 2) they have the coherence properties of radio or microwave radiation. These properties allow laser beams to carry many concurrent high-frequency signals.

Laser beams travel through the air in straight lines except when they are bent by lenses or prisms or reflected by mirrors. Optical fibers permit the transmission, or “piping,” of laser beams in flexible cables that can be wrapped around corners or laid on the ocean floor. An optical fiber is a fine glass or plastic strand that carries light internally along its length. Fiber-optic cables, which consist of bundles of optical fibers, are used to transmit laser beams in high-data-rate (high-bandwidth) optical communication. Optical fibers prevent the laser signals from being blocked or scattered by clouds or other particles in the atmosphere or by electromagnetic interference. This means that laser beams can travel over long distances without significant distortion or attenuation.

Fiber-optic cables can support Internet systems with up to 3 trillion bits per second at transfer rates as high as 111 gigabits per second (Gb/s), although 10 or 40 Gb/s is typical. The fibers used in long-distance telecommunication applications are always glass because glass causes only minimal attenuation. Both multi-mode and single-mode fibers are used, with multi-mode fiber used mostly for short distances (up to 600 yards) and single-mode fiber used for longer distances.

The process of communicating using fiber optics involves five basic steps: Creating the optical signal by modulating the laser output beam, relaying the modulated laser signal along the fiber, ensuring that the signal does not become too distorted or weak, receiving the optical signal, and converting the signal into an electrical signal.

Optical fibers are widely used to transmit telephone signals, Internet communication, and cable television signals. Due to much lower attenuation and interference, optical fiber has significant advantages over electrical transmission in long-distance and high-demand applications. Because of these advantages, optical fibers have largely replaced copper wire in core communication networks in the developed world. For example, many landline cell tower connections are made over optical fiber.

As one of the most talked about technological breakthroughs of the last few decades, laser/fiber-optic Internet carries a big name and responsibility in today’s world. Through the use of lasers and fiber optics, the computer and the Internet have evolved into realities that not too long ago were considered purely imaginary. Computers that used to take up entire rooms can now fit in a person’s back pocket. The Internet, which was created to help secure U.S. military networks, has now united the world with information.

With lasers and fiber optics, the frustrating days of slow Internet connections are forever in the past. Some people argue that wireless Internet is still faster than fiber-optic Internet, but that is not true. Laser/fiber-optic Internet is nearly a million times faster than wireless. A fiber-optic Internet cable can carry up to around three trillion bits per second. At that rate, the Library of Congress could be downloaded to your computer within a minute, compared to about eighty years for a dial-up connection (Fiberoptics VP).

The first transatlantic fiber-optic cable was installed in 1988, using glass fibers so transparent that repeaters (to regenerate and recondition the signal) were needed only about every 40 miles. In 1997, the Fiber Optics Link Around the World (FLAG) became the longest single-cable network in the world, providing infrastructure for the next-generation Internet. The 17,500-mile cable begins in England and runs through the Strait of Gibraltar to Palermo, Sicily, before crossing the Mediterranean to Egypt. It then goes to Dubai and UAR before crossing the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, and Andaman Sea, through Thailand, and across the China Sea to Hong Kong and Japan (National Academy of Engineering).

Transistors get a lot of attention in the digital world, but the backstage heroes are lasers. Red lasers brought us compact discs and cheap long-distance communication. Blue lasers, which cram even more data into a small spot, became a hit around 1999 and have made possible Blu-ray DVDs (Elizabeth Corcoran, Forbes Magazine, June 08, 2009).

Gordon Snyder, Director of the NSF/ATE ICT Center, says, “The entire landline infrastructure is being replaced with fiber.” More valuable comments about this from Gordon can be found at the following blogspots:

Questions or comments? Post your comments here or e-mail me!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What if there were no lasers today?

When you hear the word, “laser” what are you reminded of? Luke Skywalker? Star Wars? High-tech wars between spacecraft?

Well, those concepts make good movies and TV shows, but they don’t make very good sense - in a practical way. In the last 40+ years, we have created a wide range of lasers (some whose output you can’t even see) and we’ve learned how to control them and use them to make our life better and to do things we’ve never been able to do with any other device - incredible breakthroughs in medicine, communications, manufacturing, entertainment and lots more. Unless we happen to be involved in the development of some application of the laser we probably don’t even know they are being used - right before our eyes!

Lasers now come in a variety of configurations and output wavelengths (colors), in continuous and pulsed beams, and at high and low power levels. We can often find a “laser solution” to a particular problem by selecting a laser with an output that suits our needs best. The unique properties of lasers that make them useful are:

  • Monochromatic - Most lasers emit a beam of light at a very pure color (or wavelength). This means that the beam will be selectively transmitted, absorbed or reflected when other beams of light are not affected the same way.

  • Collimated - A laser ray can be made to remain a very narrow beam that will travel long distances without spreading out much. A laser beam can be sent all the way to the moon and spread so little that it still makes a powerful spot when it hits something.

  • A powerful Source of Heat that can be directed and pin pointed to an exact spot where it may melt or vaporize the target material, and yet leave the surrounding material unaffected.
  • Coherent - Because laser light is much better organized than ordinary light, lasers have the same “information-carrying” properties that radio waves have, except the laser is working at much, much higher frequencies. This allows huge amounts of information, and many, many channels to be sent over a laser beam. Sometimes the laser beam is sent in the air; and sometimes it is “piped” in tiny plastic or glass strands called “fiber optics”.

So what are some common uses of lasers that we use every day? Here are a few:

Supermarket Checkout Systems
A low-power laser beam is scanned across the “bar codes” that are attached to products we buy. When we check out at a superstore, we just place the product with its bar code face down on the window of the scanner, the laser beam sweeps across the bar code and the reflected laser beam is read as a code that identifies the product. This uses the collimated and monochromatic characteristics of the laser.

LASIK Eye Surgery
LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) is a surgical procedure that uses a laser to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, and/or astigmatism. In LASIK, a thin flap in the cornea is created using a femtosecond laser. The surgeon folds back the flap, and then removes some corneal tissue underneath using an
excimer laser. The flap is then laid back in place, covering the area where the corneal tissue was removed. With nearsighted people, the goal of LASIK is to flatten the too-steep cornea; with farsighted people, a steeper cornea is desired. LASIK can also correct astigmatism by smoothing an irregular cornea into a more normal shape. This application uses the collimated, monochromatic and heat properties of the laser. (Unfortunately, laser pioneers are too old to be considered good candidates for LASIK.)

Laser Printers & Copiers
The physical phenomenon at work in a laser printer is
static electricity, the same energy that makes clothes in the dryer stick together. A laser printer uses this phenomenon as a sort of "temporary glue" to hold toner on a photoconductive drum. The laser "writes" the print information on a photoconductive revolving drum, which then transfers it to a sheet of paper. This uses the collimated and heat properties of the laser. The information is then sealed to the paper with heat from a fuser, producing a very high-resolution copy.
(From )

There are more laser applications to talk about (internet, displays, entertainment, pointers, and defense/homeland security equipment); but, those will have to wait until there’s another blog posting.

Questions or comments? Post your comments here or e-mail me!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Technical Challenges During the Emergence of the Laser - 1960’s

Q-Switched Ruby Laser with "Rat’s Nest" Calorimeter - 1962
Click here to view the image above in a larger format.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, scientists accomplished the extraordinary feats of predicting, discovering and making the first lasers operational. Throughout the 1960s, scientists continued to lead in discovering new solid, gas and liquid materials that could be used as the active medium in lasers, providing new output wavelengths, higher energy and/or pulsed power outputs and greater efficiencies.

By 1961, electrical and mechanical engineers also joined laser R&D staffs in the development and refinement of laser systems and related equipment. We were faced with technical challenges for which we were not prepared in our education and/or prior experience. Some of the challenges we faced were:

  • Engineers and physicists did not usually work together or even speak the same technical language. We learned to work in teams and to develop mutual respect for each other - because we needed each other’s unique experience and expertise.
  • There were no textbooks and few journal articles about lasers; we had to learn about them as we worked on them. We were discovering new phenomena and revising existing theories.
  • In the 1960’s, most engineers’ knowledge of optics was limited to what they learned in a few weeks of study in sophomore physics. Many of us had to learn more depth in geometrical optics from a book by Jenkins & White; wave (or physical) optics from a book by Strong.
  • Light was traditionally measured in photometric units (lumens, foot candles, angstroms etc). We had to transition to radiometric units (joules, watts, nanometers etc).
  • Safety aspects of laser beams was neither known nor respected. Laser safety became an R&D field of its own. Laser safety goggles had not been invented.
  • There was no instrument used to measure the energy in an optical pulse (i.e. output of a pulsed laser.) Robert M. Baker, a Fellow Electronics Engineer at the Westinghouse Defense Center, devised and tested a “rats nest” calorimeter, composed of tens of meters of coated, fine copper wire, tangled and placed in a small beaker. The pulsed laser beam was directed into the “rats nest”; the change in electrical resistance, due to the heat rise in the copper, was measured; the temperature rise in the wire was calculated and related to the laser pulse energy absorbed by the “rats nest”.
  • The physics of “negative absorption” or “optical gain” could only be understood through an understanding of modern physics and quantum mechanics. Some of us had “lightly” learned these fields in graduate studies; others had to struggle through these topics in other ways.
  • Operation of solid lasers, like ruby, required fluent knowledge and facility in cryogenics and high voltage power supplies and capacitor banks. Most engineers had to learn these practices “on the job”.
  • As new applications of lasers were proposed in fields such as defense, materials processing, medical therapeutics, communications, remote sensing and others, engineers were required to devise, revise and adapt equipment to accommodate laser and optical components, devices and systems.
  • We learned, by mistakes, that a high power, pulsed ruby laser cannot be focused with an achromat lens without destroying the cement that joins the components of the lens together. Achromat lenses were not needed for monochromatic laser light.
  • We also learned that most anti-reflective coatings, needed on gas laser tubes and the ends of solid laser rods, were also vulnerable to damage by the laser radiation. We solved this problem by positioning the end of the laser rods and the windows at Brewster’s angle to minimize reflections; thereby eliminating the need for AR coatings.

This list is far from comprehensive, but it’s what first came to mind and it’s long enough for this blog posting. Perhaps you were also working on lasers in the 1960’s. I would invite you to comment on other challenges that you faced.

Visit to learn more about the 50th anniversary celebration of the laser!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Celebrating 50 years of the Laser in 2010

A little more than 48 years ago, when I was a fledgling young electrical engineer at the Westinghouse Defense Center in Baltimore, I had a fortunate occasion that transformed my career into one of the most exciting experiences I could expect in my life. I was developing and testing some electronic timing/counting circuits for airborne radar systems; I was bored to death and wondering why I had dragged my young wife up to Baltimore from Texas to live in this “foreign land”, away from friends, relatives and Mexican food.

My engineering manager approached me just before lunch one day in June 1961, and showed me a copy of the latest issue of Scientific American magazine. He said, “Here, read this article about a helium-neon laser that had been created at Bell Labs. We want to build the second one, and I want to know if you would like to have this assignment.” I read the article, struggled through the quantum mechanics, modern physics and optics, and couldn’t imagine any practical applications for this curious device. But I also couldn’t think of anything else that I wanted to do, so I returned from lunch and responded with “why not”?

We had the HeNe lasing @ 1.153 microns (with a flat mirror Fabry-Perot etalon cavity) before the end of the year. Then we set out to build a ruby laser like Ted Maiman had demonstrated at Hughes. When we got it to operate (with a pulse energy output of about two joules), we focused the beam, with a one-inch focal length lens, on a razor blade, and blew a hole in it. Now we knew the potential application; we had the ultimate weapon to “blow ICBM’s out of the sky” and save the USA from nuclear weapon destruction! The Department of Defense also caught the laser fever; within months, R&D $$ for laser development began to flow like a river. We tried to make more powerful lasers by discovering other materials that would lase (someone even reported that they had made jello to lase.) We built ruby laser oscillator/amplifiers to raise the output power and sent them to military labs for more testing.

I not only shot more razor blades, I shot other, more exotic materials; calculated the volume of material removed and measured the impulse generated by the rapid “blow-off” at the material’s surface. In 1963 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited the United Nations, beat his shoe on the podium, and showed a hand ruler that had a small hole in it made from a ruby laser. He declared that the USSR had the ultimate weapon that would allow them to control the world. By that time, I had determined that it might be more effective to “throw the laser at the ICBM” than it would be to try to shoot it out of the sky. Laser weapons’ research continued, and some useful devices have no doubt been developed that have made our military more efficient and our country safer.

But many more unique, useful laser applications have been developed in medicine, surgery, telecommunications, manufacturing, homeland security, lighting, displays and nanotechnology, to name a few. Lasers (today, a part of photonics) is an enabling technology that has provided new solutions to difficult problems, made our country a safer place to live and improved our quality of life. I’m so glad that I am a part of this scientific achievement. I’m an engineer and an educator; I didn’t discover the laser, but I am proud to have been part of its development; I’ve contributed to new applications; and I’ve been working for the last 35 years to build the laser (photonics) technician workforce - a critical element in this exciting and useful field.

Next year, the American Physical Society (APS), along with other sponsors, like OP-TEC, is leading a national celebration to commemorate the 50th year of the laser. This celebration is called LaserFest.

Check out the plans, information, history and opportunities to participate in LaserFest by visiting the APS web site at

For the next several weeks I will be writing about LaserFest and some of my early memories of the emergence of the laser, including some early pioneer colleagues, technologies that had to be created/changed to support laser development, the transition from “laser systems development” to “laser applications development”, and the need/response for laser technicians.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Photonics College Network Was Launched!

The OP-TEC Photonics College Network (OPCN) was initiated last week, at the HI-TEC Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. Twenty-three faculty members and administrators were present, representing 18 of the nation’s 29 photonics colleges. Two additional faculty members also attended, representing two other colleges that are planning to start new photonics programs in the near future.

The OPCN met for five hours over two evenings, and accomplished the following:

  • In a “networking session”, members exchanged contact information, program descriptions and student recruitment brochures.
  • Members asked OP-TEC to create and maintain an OPCN community web site, open only to members, for the purpose of sharing successful strategies and engaging in discussions on issues and problems related to photonics technician education.
  • Members agreed to participate in conducting Regional Needs Assessments of photonics technician job opportunities.
  • Members agreed to participate in quarterly teleconferences, beginning in September 2009.
  • Members requested OP-TEC to develop and conduct monthly webinars on photonics education innovations and technical updates. These 1-hour webinars will be led by OPCN members, OP-TEC center staff and technical experts. Topics will be agreed upon in the next six weeks, and the webinars will begin in the fall of 2009.

OP-TEC announced that matching mini grants would be awarded in 2009-2010, on a competitive basis, for selected OPCN members to initiate proven strategies to increase photonics student enrollment/retention at OPCN colleges.

Dr. Fred Seeber, Professor Emeritus at Camden County College, provided a seminar to the OPCN members on Laser Safety, highlighting the recently released ANSI Z136.5 Safe Use of Lasers in Educational Institutions. Copies of the new ANSI Standard were given to each OPCN member in attendance.

The following colleges were represented at the meetings: Bellingham Technical College; Camden County College; Central Carolina Community College; Central New Mexico Community College; College of Lake County; Delaware Technical College; Idaho State University (2-yr program); Indian Hills Community College; Indian River State College; Indiana University of Pennsylvania (2-yr Northpointe Campus); Irvine Valley College/CACT; Ivy Tech Community College; Monroe Community College; Northwest Vista Community College; Pima Community College; Sinclair Community College; Texas State Technical College; TriCounty Technical College; Valencia Community College; and, Wallace State Community College.

Membership in OPCN is available, without charge, to other two-year colleges offering photonics education. If you would like additional information about OPCN, please contact us at

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Retraining for Photonics Technicians

Many U.S. employers of photonics technicians are hiring workers that are underprepared for their jobs. Some of these techs are educated/trained in other technical fields; some have only a high school education, or some post secondary education in an unrelated field. A recent study conducted for OP-TEC reveals that employers are hiring 400-600 unprepared photonics techs each year. Employers don’t want to do this, but they’re doing it to survive; they need to fill staffing slots to meet their commitments and our colleges aren’t turning out enough photonics grads.

We need 2200 new photonics techs this year, but our colleges are only producing about 250 completers. OP-TEC is working with our U.S. colleges to start more photonics AAS degree programs and to increase the enrollment and completion rates of existing programs. But it will take years for us to “build our capacity” to have enough completers to fill the annual demand for photonics techs.

In the meantime, employers will continue to “make do” with underprepared workers; and these new or transferred workers will have to “learn on the job”. On the job training (OJT) is important and useful, but it is usually limited to survival training on specific equipment and processes that are peculiar to an employer’s current equipment and work assignments. It rarely includes the basic knowledge and skills that underpin the technology and provide the foundation for survival and/or growth. In the case of photonics, this basic knowledge/skill includes geometric and wave optics, laser operation and output characteristics - and laser safety.

So, what can be done “in the meantime”? If photonics techs need some education and training in this field, and if they are near one of the colleges in our country that offers photonics courses (see a map of these college locations in my May 6 blog posting), then they should investigate the offerings that are available locally. But this option may not be practical for the following reasons:

  • There is not a photonics college within commuting distance.
  • You may not have the time available to attend the college 2-3 evenings/week.

To address the need of employed photonics techs for education/training in this field, OP-TEC has developed and tested hybrid online courses in optics and photonics that can be offered by any college that has the appropriate faculty and labs to teach them. The course is hybrid because of the way it is delivered. Students can take the classroom part of the course “online” from their homes, workplace or while they are on the road. Videos of the lab activities are also shown online. Periodically, students come to the college to conduct the hands-on lab activities. This can be once every other two weeks or all at the end of the course, depending on the preference of the students and the college. If sufficient students from one employer constitute a course, the labs could be conducted at the employer worksite.

The six modules in the first course cover the following basic topics:

  • Nature and Properties of Light
  • Optical Handling and Positioning
  • Laser Safety
  • Geometric Optics
  • Wave Optics
  • Principles of Lasers

Employers have verified that these topics constitute the “core” of basic photonics. Supplemental math material can also be included for those students who need to brush up on their skills in algebra and trig.

In our nation’s present economic condition, with a high jobless rate, the news about available jobs in photonics sounds like a golden opportunity for some unemployed workers to “get back on the payroll” and enter some rewarding careers. But if you’re unprepared for a job, you’ll probably stay at the entry-level job, with little chance for advancement; you might even get laid off when a more qualified person can be hired. So, if you want to have a successful, rewarding career as a photonics technician, it’s important that you build your knowledge and skills in the basics of photonics technology.

If you’re interested and need to get connected with a photonics college, contact OP-TEC. Or, if you’re an employer looking for a way to upgrade your techs in photonics, we can help you find a college to provide these services. Contact us for more information!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

OP-TEC Will Prepare You to Teach Optics, Lasers, and Photonics

Photonics is an “enabling technology.” This means that optics, lasers, fiber-optics, and other electro-optics devices may introduce new solutions, enhance devices, or improve the performance of processes in fields such as medicine, telecommunications, environmental monitoring, manufacturing/materials processing, defense/homeland security, alternative energy, lighting, displays, and many other areas where today’s students will be tomorrow’s workers. Beginning now and growing rapidly in the future, photonics will be as integral to technology as electronics has been for the past several decades.

If you are teaching science or technology in high school, are you introducing optics and photonics to your students and giving them the foundation they will need in this area? Or if you are a college faculty member in a technical field, are you providing the basics of photonics and its applications related to your field, so that your students will enhance their career opportunities and be prepared to grow in their jobs?

OP-TEC has two courses that secondary and postsecondary educators can use to provide the photonics foundations their students will need. If you’re interested, we can help you get started.

The courses cover topics in basic light sources and optics, laser principles and laser safety, fiber optics, holography, and laser applications. The courses can be tailored to cover applications in the particular field the student is studying.

The costs for putting in Course 1 may be a lot less than you think. We have an equipment list for colleges and are developing a lower-cost version for high schools. You may even be able to borrow some of the equipment from your physics labs.

For the last two years, OP-TEC has provided hybrid online courses to train high school teachers and college faculty about lasers and optics and how to teach these courses. This spring 22 educators enrolled in training for Course 1. Over a 12-week period, they have studied (with the help of an online moderator) all six modules, engaged in online discussions, worked the problems, and observed streaming videos of the labs, where they recorded data and performed calculations. This month, the completers will travel to a ”photonics college” for three days, where they will work all of the labs, meet with experienced faculty members, and gain information about equipping and setting up a photonics lab. OP-TEC will provide the faculty training course without charge to qualified teachers. Their only costs will be their travel expenses to the “photonics college.”

As a faculty member who had completed OP-TEC's "Faculty Development" course last year for Fundamentals of Light & Lasers, Course 1, I can report that I am delighted with the support of OP-TEC's staff and their college partners! I am working to build our photonics/laser program at my campus. We are adopting the OP-TEC materials for our college and this will be the first semester that we will be using the OP-TEC Course 1 textbook. OP-TEC has been very helpful with helping me develop my course locally. I strongly recommend other faculty who wish to add photonics to their colleges & universities to consider taking the OP-TEC Faculty Development course!” Tom Millen, Assistant Professor, Electronics & Computer Technology, Ivy Tech Community College

OP-TEC will offer both courses in c/y 09-10. So if you are interested, please contact us and let us help you help your students become qualified for the jobs of tomorrow in the emerging field of photonics.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Photonics Summer Camps and Institutes for High School Teachers and Students

Emerging technologies such as photonics and nanotechnology must be experienced to be appreciated. Unfortunately, community and technical college offerings in these fields are some of the best kept secrets in the country. High school teachers, counselors, students - and their parents - need to experience these technologies first hand, and they need to learn about the wonderful, rewarding career opportunities that are available to young people.

Visits by college representatives to high schools and “gee whiz” demonstrations may open some doors, but they must be followed up by experiences in the college laboratories where students and their teachers can see how the equipment is being used and to participate in “hands-on” lab activities.

The “middle 50%” of our high school achievers are frequently not encouraged to consider careers in emerging technologies. Most of these young people are capable of mastering the math, science and technology that these careers require - and they are more inclined to enjoy and benefit from education when they see that it has a purpose. They deserve these rewarding, challenging jobs that are available to them, and our country deserves the talents that they can provide if they are encouraged and educated.

Colleges that offer technician education programs in new and emerging technologies must be engaged in intense, focused outreach efforts to high school students, teachers and counselors to build the “high school pipeline” and strengthen their enrollments. Some of the institutions in OP-TEC’s Photonics College Network (OPCN) have initiated novel and successful outreach efforts to nearby high schools.
Two of them have written monographs, documenting their strategies and successes.

Texas State Technical College (TSTC) Waco employs a young, marketing-trained recruiter and the regional Tech Prep coordinator to make the initial contact with high schools throughout the state. Interested teachers, students and counselors are invited to attend hands-on, one-week summer institutes in lasers and nanotechnology. The classes are held in the TSTC labs and the attendees reside in on-campus dorms. The TSTC monograph contains descriptions of recruitment strategies, format/agenda of the institute, costs, labs/equipment and the participant manual. Enrollment in each year has doubled; this summer (the 3rd) enrollment is expected to be 60 attendees (~3 institutes). Examples of comments from participants include:

“..The presenters and presentations were excellent…I will be recommending this venue to my counterparts and my students.” (teacher)

“The LEO program is really awesome. It doesn’t just teach you about lasers, it also teaches responsibilities….I plan on coming back for the week program next year. I also hope to come to TSTC for college after that.” (student)

Indiana University of Pennsylvania's (IUP) Northpointe Regional Two-Year Campus, uses a comprehensive approach with nearby high schools that has four elements. These four elements are provided below and presented, in detail, in the IUP monograph.

  1. Presentations in High School Classrooms - Hands-on presentations about lasers and electro-optics to high school 10th and 11th grade science classes reinforce the science principles, show interesting applications and describe career opportunities and educational pathways.
  2. On-Campus Electro-Optic Experiences - Half day sessions at the college for 30-40 high school sophomores, juniors, seniors and their teachers, to familiarize them with EO labs and college life @ IUP.
  3. Electro-Optics (EO) Summer Camps for Students - One week sessions where students experience laser and optics science/technology and learn about career opportunities from local and regional employers.
  4. Workshops for Teachers and Counselors - One-day experiences to participate in laser/electro-optics hardware activities/demonstrations, discuss educational plans and tour local electro-optics industries.

Over the last three years the outreach efforts have grown from serving 500 students and teachers in 2005-06, to over 2000 students in 2007-08. They have contributed to significant student interest and enrollment growth.

To view, save and/or print these monographs from the OP-TEC website, please click on the title(s) below to access the monograph PDF file.

TSTC Waco’s Photonics Summer Institutes for High School Science & Technology Teachers

Authors: Dr. Larry Grulick & John Pedrotti, TSTC; Dan Hull, OP-TEC

Outreach Activities to Enlist High School Students for Electro-Optics Technician Programs at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Northpointe Two-Year Campus
Authors: Dr. Feng Zhou, IUP; Dan Hull, OP-TEC

For more information about OP-TEC's free Program Planning Guides and monographs or to request a complimentary bound copy, please click here.

Contact Information:

For more information about the TSTC Summer Institute, please contact

For more information about the IUP outreach activities, please contact

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Photonics College Network

Last week I wrote about the rewarding career opportunities for photonics techs that are educated/trained at two year colleges. I also mentioned that there are over 25 community and technical colleges in the U.S. that prepare students for these careers. Most of these colleges have hard-working, competent faculty and excellent facilities. Some have new photonics offerings, some have been in operation for over 30 years - and some are struggling to overcome obstacles, such as low enrollment, retiring faculty or curricula that needs a “new look”. Overall, these colleges currently have about 700 photonics students and 280 completers each year. (Recall that our recent study revealed that U.S. employers need about 2100 new photonic techs this year.)
OP-TEC is working hard to close the gap between supply and demand. We are working with over 200 colleges that are considering or planning new programs in photonics; but new programs take time to develop - this is our long-term strategy. Our short term strategy is to help some of the 30 colleges with existing photonics programs to revitalize and grow. We believe, that with some assistance, the existing programs could significantly increase their output of completers in 2-3 years. (We’ve seen that happen in the last 3 years with our 7 Partner Colleges.) Some of that assistance will come from OP-TEC, but much of the help they need is what they can provide for each other by networking and sharing best practices. To facilitate this OP-TEC is forming the OP-TEC Photonics College Network (OPCN).

Membership in OPCN is available for faculty and administrators of two-year colleges that offer courses/programs in optic and photonics. There is no fee to join, but members will benefit - and be a benefit to others, if they are active, in terms of communication, information-sharing and participation in electronic and/or on-site meetings.

Potential benefits include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Opportunities to network with photonics faculty and administrators of approximately twenty-five U.S. colleges currently or recently offering photonics education.
  2. Access to OPCN e-mail distribution list, member roster, web forum and other networking tools to collaborate and exchange ideas and best practices.
  3. OP-TEC curriculum designs, teaching modules, planning guides and monographs of best practices in photonics education.
  4. Professional development opportunities and technical assistance through OP-TEC to update, enhance and strengthen photonics programs.
  5. Support and information on how to increase program enrollment.
  6. Identification of state-wide photonics employers and access to needs assessment survey process.
  7. News updates on emerging trends in photonics applications and educational innovations.
  8. Eligible for OP-TEC Mini-Grants for program improvement.
  9. Information about other potential grant opportunities such as NSF/ATE, DOE and DOL grants.
  10. Opportunities for OP-TEC fellowships to attend conferences or workshops.
  11. Information on lab equipment availability, used equipment donations or auctions and possible exchange program.
  12. Use of and training on OP-TEC’s hybrid, online course for high school dual credit and for retraining employed technicians.

The inaugural meeting of OPCN will take place July 19-20, in Phoenix, during the pre-conference of the HI-TEC conference. A limited number of Fellowships to attend HI-TEC are available to OPCN members through OP-TEC. To learn more about the HI-TEC conference, visit

The Photonics Colleges represent an enormously important national resource. They are a critical link in providing the competent workforce that U.S. employers will need to remain globally competitive in this emerging technical field.

For more information about OPCN or to request a membership application, please contact Donna Flanery at or call 254-741-8338 x394.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Need a Job? Learn to be a Photonics Technician

Lots of good people in the U.S. have lost their jobs, or are worried about losing their jobs in the near future. And, many of the jobs that are being eliminated aren’t going to come back after the recession is over because the market is changing and the jobs have become obsolete. It’s time for some people to plan new careers and get the education and training they will need to fulfill their plans. Many high school seniors who planned to attend a university may also be rethinking a more affordable - and possibly more rewarding - education at a community or technical college.

So, whether you’ve recently lost a job, or are worried about the security of the job you’re in, or are just beginning to plan for a career, you might want to consider becoming a photonics technician. A national study of U.S. employers, conducted for OP-TEC, has identified more than 2,100 current jobs for photonics techs that need to be filled this year; this need continues to grow over the next five years. Employers polled for this study early this year - in the height of the current recession - said that jobs for photonics techs were available and not being filled. (A report of this jobs study will appear on the OP-TEC website in a few weeks.)

Most employers want photonics techs that have been educated and trained at 2-year colleges. Starting salaries for photonics techs range from $40,000 to about $55,000 per year. We currently have about 30 colleges throughout the U.S. that offer education/training in photonics technology - and that number will grow substantially in the next several years, because these colleges just can’t keep up with the demand.

There are several avenues to becoming a photonics tech:

Earn an AAS degree in Photonics - If you are currently (or soon to be) a student in higher education, you can enroll in one of the 30 U.S. colleges that offer photonics education. (Six have recently been highlighted in my blogs; the name and contact information of a college near you can be obtained from OP-TEC.) The most important requirements for student success in photonics are a willingness to work hard and the ability to use high school math (algebra, geometry and trig.) If you’re willing to work hard, the college will help you through any math problems you may have. You’ll also get to experience “hands-on learning” in some interesting high-tech labs using lasers and fiber optics, etc.

Earn an Advanced Certificate in Photonics - If you already have an AAS degree in an electronics or manufacturing-based technology, you can build on the education you have, and be employed in a photonics-enhanced field by taking several courses in optics, photonics and laser applications. (See “Photonics-Enabled Technologies” in the OP-TEC web site.) If you are currently employed, you might want to take these courses in a “hybrid, online” format, to reduce the time you have to spend at the college.

Retrain in Photonics to Enter a New Career - If you already have education in mathematics, science and another field of engineering technology (like semiconductor manufacturing), the retraining process may take as little as one semester (or 3-4 courses). These courses may also be available in a hybrid, online format.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in Photonics and need to get connected to a college that offers education in this field, contact OP-TEC and we’ll “hook you up”. If you’re a faculty or administrator, and are interested in your college offering education in Photonics - OP-TEC can help you. If you are a photonics college & want to quote parts or all of this blog, please feel free to do so.

For more information about OP-TEC, photonics technician careers or colleges offering photonics education, please contact us!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Technician Career Opportunities in Energy

One of the hot topics in the news these days is JOBS. People are losing jobs because the demand for their services has been reduced. In some cases, people are losing jobs because the field they are in is becoming obsolete, or is changing so rapidly that their knowledge, skills and experience are obsolete. In other cases these people are working to deliver products and services that are not globally competitive - thus, sales are down and employers are having to create their products and services with less labor, or by out sourcing the work offshore to remain competitive and survive.

In most fields, technicians remain in high demand; but in certain cases we’ve seen that situation change overnight - and the casualties emerge. As technical educators, we would be well-advised to re-examine our curricula and look for ways to assure that our tech grads continue to have core knowledge and skills that will sustain them throughout a career of 40+ years.

One promising area to examine is how the technician’s work relates to energy - now and in the future. Energy is the other hot topic that is being discussed today. But the supply, availability and efficient consumption of energy is not a temporary issue. It is one that we will all have to deal with constantly for the next several generations.

So how should we organize our examination of energy related topics to identify elements that should be included in our curriculum? Here’s my suggestion.

There are four aspects of the energy issue that are being addressed. I recommend that we all examine the curriculum in the various areas of technical education, using these energy aspects as organizers to study their impact on our particular field, and project, with the help of employer advice, the changes in core knowledge and skills that will be necessary to sustain employability.

Energy Sources

  • Conventional: fossil fuels and hydroelectricity - How will these be used more effectively in the future? What changes will be made to improve the conversion efficiency and reduce harmful combustion emissions? Will these changes require new equipment, new control systems or different chemicals to control the combustion process?
  • Alternative energy sources: especially solar, wind and geothermal - At OP-TEC, we are looking at the use of optics and lasers to improve the efficiency of solar voltaics, like holographic planar windows on collectors, and the use of femtosecond lasers to treat silicon so that it can convert more infrared wavelengths into useful electric energy.

Energy Storage

  • Larger and more effective energy storage devices will be needed to temporally redistribute energy collected from solar electric and wind generators. Last week’s blog dealt with the critical need for new battery technologies, and the possible implications it may have on technician education.
  • Improvements in the storage and retrieval of geothermal energy are also likely.

Energy Availability (distribution)

New solar electric parks, wind farms and nuclear plants will likely be located in remote sites that are far away from populated areas where the generated energy will be used. This condition will require the design, construction and maintenance of massive new electrical transmission systems. What technologies will these new transmission systems require? Will they be overhead, or underground? Will new metering, relaying, switching and transformer equipment be used? Will there be a need for large AC-to-DC convertors?

Energy Consumption

The cheapest, fastest and easiest sources of energy are those that we save through energy conservation. This means getting by with less and doing more with less - sometimes it can also mean doing better with less. Thirty years ago, when our nation faced an energy crisis, we demonstrated our resilience and patriotic spirit by engaging in unprecedented acts of energy conservation. Most of the accomplishments of that era were due to attitudes, thermostats, insulation and caulking.

Today, we will need to adopt and increase all of those strategies; but we will also develop and utilize new technologies for energy conservation, going even beyond heat pumps and electric cars. Control systems will be redesigned, processes will be improved, better materials will be used and information technology will continue to improve communications and eliminate unnecessary travel time and costs.

This is a brief look at a very important issue for technical educators. I hope it will stimulate you to think about it - and act upon it. I would welcome your comments and extensions to this line of thinking. For the last few years, OP-TEC has developed and tested effective strategies for infusing related technologies to update existing curricula/courses.

And if you want to get serious and collaborate on these topics, please plan to meet with me and Mike Lesiecki at the HI-TEC Conference in Phoenix, July 19-22. We will be leading two interactive sessions on these topics. Click here for more information on HI-TEC 2009!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Batteries for Solar Power: Do we need technicians?

When I was a young boy, I thought the only places where batteries were needed were in flashlights. Then I learned that we had one in our car to get it started. As a young adult, I knew we needed lots of batteries to operate our children’s toys. Now we need them for laptops. Batteries continuously get more important in my life; now they’re vital to the future of alternative energy—particularly wind energy and solar voltaics. Actually, I think they’re absolutely critical to the practical use of these two forms of “green energy”.

Solar voltaic cells and windmills convert these two forms of free, available, natural energy directly to electricity—and only at the times when they are available (i.e., when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.) So, the problem is that we have to use their electric energy at the precise time when it is available, or we have to be able to store it until it is needed. We will probably need to store the energy from solar voltaics for at least 6-8 hours; that’s a pretty large supply to store.

I can easily think of two possible ways to store this energy:

1. Hydraulically—Use the electricity to pump water up to the front of a dam, and release it, when it is needed, through turbines to drive electric generators (i.e., hydroelectric power.) The problem with this approach is that there aren’t enough dams available to make this approach more than a “drop in the bucket.”

2. Chemically—This is where we need to go. Use the electricity to “charge large batteries” and discharge them when we need it.

From an energy perspective, we are developing batteries for two purposes. To power hybrid-electric, or all-electric cars and to store alternative energy supplies. We’re not ready for either of these applications yet, but we’re working on it. When we are ready, will we need technicians? And where will they come from?

In the March 2, 2009 edition of Newsweek, there is an article on the future of batteries, entitled “To Pack a Real Punch”, which is an interview with Alex Molinaroli, the president of Power Solutions at Johnson Control. Molinaroli says that batteries are the key to our energy future, “You have to match energy production with the demand. That’s easy to do when you have oil or coal in the ground that you can pile up, but you can’t do that with electricity. You have to be able to store it somehow”. Molinaroli is confident that appropriate battery technology can be developed quickly, now that the demand is evident.

If we can practically develop very large battery systems, then we can use “solar parks”; if not, we’ll have to generate and store solar energy “one building at a time”.

Today, the leading technology in battery development is in lithium-ion batteries; the technology is concentrated in Korea and Japan, and some in China. This development has been driven by the needs in electric car development. Other materials for batteries are also being investigated to reduce cost, charging/recharging time and weight/volume. New breakthroughs in battery technology are likely, and they could emerge in the U.S.

The urgency for U.S. battery technology development has emerged rapidly in recent months. We can still be first in this race (and we need to be). But if we want to keep the products from this new technology in the U.S. we will have to prepare for this race—and part of this preparation is to have the appropriate technical workforce to support it.

What areas of technical education are best suited for preparing the workforce in battery development and production? What are the knowledge and skills required for cutting-edge workers in this field? A few weeks ago, I wrote a few blogs about the potential for optics and electro-optics in solar voltaic development, production and use. Battery storage of solar energy will also be critical.

As technical educators we need to think “outside the box” as we anticipate the knowledge and skills for techs in emerging fields such as solar voltaics. From OP-TEC’s view, we are interested in solar voltaics because of the skills required in optics and electro-optics. But Solar Voltaic Techs (if there are to be such workers) will probably need a combination of knowledge/skills that include optics & electro-optics; but also may include technologies related to new batteries—and possibly other technologies.

Labels: batteries, renewable energy, green energy, solar energy, solar voltaics, optics, photonics, technicians