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Speeding Toward the Future

Bartlett College seeking to play leading role in photonics revolution

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Photonics is expected to be the next wave in technology and Bridgewater State University wants to be part of it. The Bartlett College of Science and Mathematics has been exploring options in creating and offering a bachelor’s degree in photonics engineering. 

“This is a newly emerging field,” said the college’s dean, Kristen Porter-Utley. “We want to be part of this, and create a niche in the engineering area and develop a reputation that we can then build on.”

Photons are particles of light capable of replacing electrons and electron currents to power devices such as analog computers and chips, mobile phones, and medical equipment, explained physics Professor Edward Deveney during a recent presentation. 

Light travels faster than electricity, giving photons the ability to provide more efficient, cleaner signals in the way information is transmitted, he said. 

“There are certain limitations with electrons – using light, there are not as many limitations,” Dr. Deveney said. 

BSU is hoping to be selected as one of five Lab for Education and Application Prototypes (LEAP) sites. The opportunity is offered through the American Institute for Manufacturing (AIM) Photonics Institution. 

LEAP facilities are funded by the state and intended to help students build and manufacture photonic prototypes and also to create new manufacturing jobs in the emerging, high-tech field. AIM has already funded two LEAP facilities; one at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the AIM Photonics Academy is located. The other site is at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which works with Quinsigamond Community College on the project

AIM is looking to add three more LEAP facilities and Dr. Deveney and Dr. Porter-Utley would like to see one come to Bridgewater.

Even if BSU doesn’t become host LEAP site, Dr. Deveney said it’s important Bridgewater works to offer a photonics and optical engineering program to better prepare students seeking jobs in this emerging field. Meanwhile, he added that the connections between the university and this emerging field are already in place.

“We already have established quite strong connections with optics and photonics-related industries and a large number of BSU physics majors are fully employed and part of this economy,” he said. “BSU’s physics department is quietly already known for and part of the ecosystem providing outstanding graduates in this developing area.”

Dean Porter-Utley said BSU is well positioned to provide tomorrow’s photonics engineers.

“We are working to fill an educational gap in engineering in Southeastern Massachusetts, and help produce the next generation of students prepared for an engineering field that is expected to experience considerable growth in the next 5 to ten years,” she said. 

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United States