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 This may be in the form of some outdated curricula, courses, lab equipment, inactive employer advisory committees--and faculty.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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Some Great Visual Resources for Your Science and Photonics Facilities

Do you need some posters to decorate the walls of your classrooms, labs and halls? Two of the photonics professional societies, SPIE and the Optical Society of America (OSA), have created some excellent posters that they provide to K-12 schools and colleges, free for the asking. These posters will not only add color and class to your facilities, they provide interesting education and career information about optics and lasers. To view and request copies of these posters, you will need to visit their web sites.

The SPIE web site is but you can go directly to the page that shows the posters by visiting There are many posters shown that you may want. SPIE will send them to you rolled up in a tube. We have had them mounted on foam board for a few dollars. Then they can be hung on walls or positioned on tables, unframed or framed. Some of the ones that I found particularly interesting are:

Introduction to Popular Applications of Optics & Lasers (new) — This poster shows novel applications that everyone can recognize, but may not know that they were enabled by optics and/or lasers. I think it is particularly useful for elementary and middle school students—and their parents.

Future of Lasers: Illuminating the Future (new) — This is a futuristic look at new laser applications in healthcare, energy, manufacturing and communications. I think it makes a great addition in either high schools or colleges.

• Invent Your Future (new) — This is my favorite! It explores & encourages photonics careers in science and technology. I think it is particularly appropriate for middle and high schools. We have this one mounted in the entrance of OP-TEC. Others are mounted throughout our Center.

Posters that relate to photonics applications in other fields include:
 Lithography
 Remote Sensing
 Metamaterials
 Biophotonics
 Sensors
 Nanotechnology
 Energy

The OSA web site is but you can go directly to the page that shows posters & other educational materials by visiting

There are two OSA Poster Series:

Optical Phenomena Posters (four, 11” x 34” — request the set)
 Lasers
 Fiber Optics
 Biomedical Optics
 Spectroscopy

Make waves—Discover Science Series (new, four, 11” x 34” — request the set)
 Acoustics
 Cross Polarization
 Echolocation
 Lasers

These posters will also be sent to you rolled in a tube; and they are best displayed if they are mounted on foam board. They are printed in five languages, so specify if you want yours in English. We have six of these posters displayed in the OP-TEC office.

Educational Pamphlets to accompany OSA posters: OSA has also developed very high quality educational pamphlets to support the posters described above. These 8.5" x 11", 4-8 page documents contain scientific explanations of the phenomena/equipment, experiments and career profiles of photonics scientists, engineers and technicians. They are available as printable PDFs that you can download from the web site.

Other free educational resources: OSA & SPIE also have several CDs and digital explorations, described in their web sites, that are useful for introducing photonics and careers to young people.

One example that particularly impresses me is Lighten Up! Discovering the Science of Light. This 36 page color booklet, developed through a collaborative effort between OSA Foundation and the Girl Scouts of America, is an exciting educational resource guide for girls, ages 11-15. You can request copies from OSA and GSA, or you can download a PDF and print your own copies.

Someone once said, “The best things in life are free.” I’m not sure they were referring to educational materials in lasers and optics, but the saying sure fits for these resources.

Dan Hull

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Helping Graduating Photonics Technicians Find the Right Job and Be Successful

Recent reports from our photonics colleges reveal that graduates are having no problem getting job offers, even in these slow economic times. The survey we conducted last year indicates that in 2010, employers will need an additional 1200 photonics techs; and the demand will continue at this level for at least several more years. We remain in a “seller’s market” for photonics techs.

But even with the many job opportunities available to them, graduating techs need to approach their job search armed with wise advice and guidance. They’ve worked hard for this opportunity and they deserve to get off to a good start. And there’s no one better to provide this advice to them than photonics techs that went through the process a few years ago. Last year, OP-TEC established the Photonics Alumni Council for Technicians (PACT). College faculty proposed alumni for membership and sixteen outstanding graduates were selected for the first council of PACT. But the selected alumni didn’t just want to be recognized for their success, they wanted to “give something back”; they wanted to help other techs that were just beginning their career; and they wanted them to benefit from their own experiences—good and bad. So they provided significant input to the preparation of a pamphlet entitled “How to Search for and Find Your First Job.” This four-page publication addresses the following topics:

  • “Money isn’t everything”, but it helps. (Explains other employer benefits that are also important.)
  • Where do you want to live? Where would you be willing to live?
  • What kind of work do you want to do?
  • Have you prepared a resume?
  • What do you hope will happen in the interview?

Shortly after the first pamphlet was published, the PACT set out to develop a second one entitled, “How to Make Your First Year on the Job a Success."

It included the following topics:

  • You haven’t learned everything when you graduate.
  • Your mother doesn’t work here, so learn how to survive on your own.
  • You’re personally responsible for the quality and timeliness of your work.
  • Your value as an employee will depend on your soft skills as much as your technical expertise.
  • When possible, volunteer to represent your employer in community or charitable events.

Employers who have reviewed the pamphlets have enthusiastically recommended that all future techs and new hires have copies of these materials. You can review them also, by clicking here.

OP-TEC is providing limited copies of these pamphlets to any college—or employer—that requests them. And we can provide a print-ready copy to colleges that want to customize the pamphlets with their institutional identification. We’re not trying to sell them; we just want them to be used.

This year the PACT is considering the preparation of additional pamphlet(s) that could be used to help high school students consider a career as a photonics technician.

What a great way for these recent grads to “give back” to the photonics field—and to help young people that could greatly benefit from their advice.

Friday, April 16, 2010

SCIENCE AND A SYMPHONY - Artistic Laser Light Show With an Orchestral Performance of “Oscillate”

Over 200 central Texas science teachers and other educators were invited guests at a March 20 multimedia concert by the Waco Symphony Orchestra. The event was one of many LaserFest celebrations being held this year throughout the country to commemorate the 50th year of the laser, which was invented in 1960. The purpose of the LaserFest celebrations is to call attention to the many ways that lasers have enhanced our daily lives—from laser printers and copiers to digital sound reproduction and fiber optics, to mention only a few of the applications that are now commonplace.
The WSO concert featured a new composition by Jon Barrett, a Baylor University graduate student. The composition, titled “Oscillate,” was performed in conjunction with a specially designed laser light show.
Barrett’s piece was a natural match for a laser light show. Barrett composed it as a musical reflection of what he called the “never-ending ballet of patterns, interconnected and interdependent with one another, large and small.” “Our cells are born from our parents’ cells,” he noted, “and through division give rise to more cells until finally dying. Our lungs respire through a pattern of inhalation and exhalation. Our heart pumps blood through our bodies, circulating oxygen to our cells. Electrical charges constantly course throughout our nervous systems, giving us control of our bodies and a sense of the world and, ultimately, the Cosmos.” “Oscillate,” which won Baylor’s 2009 Symphony Overture Competition, is also a study in the juxtaposition of opposites—loud and soft, high and low, light and dark, fast and slow, transparent and opaque textures, serious and comical tones, and art and popular musical styles.

The laser light show, which was custom-designed as a visual interpretation of Barrett’s music, was provided by Prismatic Magic, a nationally known laser light show company. Prismatic Magic’s president, Dr. Chris Volpe, is a physicist with a specialization in optics and lasers.

Prior to the concert, OP-TEC, Texas State Technical College, Baylor University, and the City of Waco jointly hosted the guest teachers at a reception in Baylor’s new science building.

Over 100 pictures of the laser light show, as well as a 10-minute audio-video recording of the performance, can be seen on the OP-TEC website,

Monday, February 8, 2010

Recent Trends in Solid State (LED) Lighting

The acceptance of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) as the preferred lighting device continues to grow in all sectors throughout our country, but especially in municipalities. U.S. cities are seizing upon LEDS as a viable strategy to “Go Green”, particularly in applications where low maintenance is more important than lower initial costs.

According to an article entitled “U.S. Cities Go Green with LEDs”, in the Optical Society of America’s (OSA) February issue of Optics and Photonics News (OPN), cities as well as public and commercial institutions are demonstrating the use of LEDs to realize long term cost savings and reduce pollution in the operation of traffic lights and street lighting. Although LED’s are still more expensive than fluorescent lights, their initial costs are offset by their higher efficiencies and longer lifetimes. Maintenance costs to replace failed lighting are very expensive in street lighting and traffic lights. And LED’s don’t usually “fail suddenly”, like incandescent and fluorescents. When they begin to fail their light production usually drops about one-third, which means that there is more time to schedule and coordinate repairs.

James Brodrick, manager of the DOE’s solid state lighting program, claims that the use of high efficiency LEDs could reduce U.S. energy consumption for lighting by over 30% in two decades, which would eliminate the need for 44 power plants generating 1000 megawatts each, and cut the equivalent of 47 million automobiles’ greenhouse emission. LEDs are also more efficient in outdoor lighting because they are more directional and can be applied where they are needed. The clean, uniform lighting provided by LEDs also improves visibility.

All new traffic signals now use LEDs, which provide a cost savings of approximately $48/year, due to reduced maintenance and the fact that LEDs produce the desired colors, rather than having a broad band source that has to be filtered, like fluorescents and incandescents.

The DOE is encouraging the use of LEDs by funding municipalities and educational institutions for demonstration and test sites. (Visit for more information.) The OPN article, cited above, describes several successful examples of DOE-funded initiatives.

LED use is also growing in home use, particularly in outdoor lighting. But the cost and reluctance to switch to a somewhat different lighting effect have delayed widespread use like municipalities have experienced. “The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which set efficiency standards for light bulbs, is also helping to promote LED use. Traditional incandescent bulbs do not meet the standards that go into effect in 2012”, Brodrick said. “By 2020, advanced incandescents will fall below the standards as well. Only CFLs and LEDs are likely to meet the 2020 standards.

OP-TEC continues to follow LED technology advances in lighting, in order to anticipate the need for new technicians in this field. So far most of the production and installation jobs appear to be at
the craft level.

Questions or comments? Please contact us!

Click here to read the full OPN article, "U.S. Cities Go Green with LEDs."

Click here to visit the DOE's Solid State Lighting website.

Monday, January 11, 2010

2010 Update on Photonics for Optical Communications - Photonics is the Key to Broadband Access

Early use of the Internet depended on “dial-up access” using telephone lines, which was limited to a bit rate less than 56 kbit/second. This allowed computers to “talk to each other” and exchange and access text information. But shortly, computers were developed that could process information faster; higher-speed transmission lines were needed.

In the 1990’s broadband Internet access, using co-ax cable and twisted pair wires, expanded the bit rate up to 256 kbit/second, and served the business community well by speeding up transmission times and enabling higher data rates and larger data files, like pictures and video transmission.

To expand the use of the Internet to more users, and to allow rapid transmission over longer (intercontinental) distances, fiber optics cabling has been installed for transoceanic Internet cables, across large land distances and in urban areas where business use is very dense. The use of fiber optics means that we are transmitting information over optical (laser diode) beams where the carrier frequencies are many orders of magnitude greater than the radio frequencies sent over copper wire. Over the last decade, the use of laser transmitters, optical receivers and fiber optics transmission cables ushered in photonics technology to enhance Internet and telecommunications services.

Cell phones required wireless transmission over radio and microwave frequencies. Their wide-spread use required transmission towers positioned every 10-50 miles apart throughout the land; the cell phone towers “talked to each other” around the world by connecting through synchronous, orbiting satellites. Computers also began communicating “wirelessly” by tying into the communication towers and satellites.

Digital Communications has become more complex and more crowded: We’re outgrowing our infrastructure
Smart phones (such as iPhones and BlackBerries) combine cell phones with computer access to the Internet, requiring broadband access. Today, according to the International Telecommunications Union, 60 out of every 100 people in the world own and/or are using cell phones and smart phones; and more than 85 percent of the world’s online population has used the Internet to make a purchase.

Over the last 3 years, the surge of computer and smart phone use for social networking (e.g. Facebook and Twitter), as well as video streaming and video conferencing, has placed an enormous demand on broadband access that can only be met by greatly increasing the bit rates to 1-10 megabit/second. This can be accomplished by changing our entire digital infrastructure for distance transmission as well as local area networks (LANs).

Note: Distance transmission provides Internet service to a building or communication tower, and LANs distributes the Internet service to users within the facility. In a home or small office LANs are relatively simple, but still must be fast. In large corporations, college/universities, and Internet businesses, such as Google, LANs support the use of huge megaservers.

Photonics technologies will provide the tools and techniques to reconfigure our digital infrastructure
Fiber optics networks, carrying optical signals generated by laser diodes, are the technology tools that will allow us to reconfigure the digital network. In 2009, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defined "Basic Broadband" as data transmission speeds exceeding 768 kilobits per second (Kbps), in at least one direction: downstream (from the Internet to the user’s computer) or upstream (from the user’s computer to the Internet). The trend is to raise the threshold of the broadband definition as the marketplace rolls out faster services. Broadband penetration is now treated as a key economic indicator.

As the bandwidth delivered to end users increases, the market expects that video on-demand services streamed over the Internet will become more popular, though at the present time such services generally require specialized networks. The data rates on most broadband services still do not suffice to provide good quality video, as MPEG-2 video requires about 6 Mbit/s for good results. Adequate video for some purposes becomes possible at lower data rates, with rates of 768 kbit/s and 384 kbit/s used for some video conferencing applications, and rates as low as 100 kbit/s used for videophones using H.264/MPEG-4 AVC. The MPEG-4 format delivers high-quality video at 2 Mbit/s, at the low end of cable modem performance.

Technology applications change the landscape
Because of falling costs to acquire the equipment, businesses may have dozens or even hundreds of video cameras on their premises, carrying video on the LAN. The combination of lower prices and technology advancements enhances security and enables fewer people to keep track of assets that may be scattered far and wide.

Telepresence, the latest generation of video conferencing that uses large flat screens and high-definition video to replicate face-to-face meetings, is gaining traction.

As these trends grow, new bandwidth-hungry applications appear. Enterprise bandwidth demand escalates month after month and requires upgrades in electronic apparatus and larger copper cables. Information technology (IT) managers scratch their heads wondering how to accommodate these requirements. It won’t be done with copper. We need massive shifts to fiber delivery systems, using laser diode transmitters and other photonics components, especially in outlying rural areas.

Verizon Conducts World's First 10 Gigabit-per-Second Fiber-to-the-Premises Field Test Waltham, Mass. – December 16, 2009
Last month, Verizon became the first telecommunications company in the world to successfully field-test a passive optical network system known as XG-PON that can transmit data at 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) downstream and 2.4 Gbps upstream, four times as fast as the current top transmission speeds supporting the company's all-fiber FiOS network. Additional demonstrations of this nature are expected by Verizon and other companies in early 2010.

Photonics is the key to the future in broadband access
A few weeks ago, the Federal government announced that it will hand out the first $182 million of a $7.2 billion pot of stimulus money that will go toward building high-speed Internet networks and encouraging more Americans to use them.

The money is being targeted for "last-mile" connections that link homes, businesses and other end users to the Internet; "middle-mile" connections that link communities to the Internet backbone; computing centers in libraries, colleges and other public facilities; and adoption programs that teach people how to use the Internet and encourage them to sign up for broadband services. By March 2010, additional stimulus funds will be released to build our country’s broadband access.

The need is evident, the technology has been proven and stimulus funds are being applied. It is quite possible - even likely - that 2010 will be the year of massive development for broadband infrastructure. And photonics components will pave the way.

What’s your perspective on this? Am I too optimistic? Have I understated the case? Will U.S. photonics suppliers be the main beneficiaries in this market? Are we ready? Will we need even more photonics techs? How about retraining needs?

Leave your comments here or contact me by e-mail!