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Lighting the Way

University’s burgeoning photonics program awarded equipment

Bridgewater State University is one of 12 higher education institutions in the United States receiving scientific equipment through a contest run by Quebec company Gentec Electro-Optics. The equipment will be used by students and faculty in the institution’s emerging photonics and optical engineering program.

BSU joins the University of Notre Dame, Oregon State, California Polytechnic State and others in receiving a Gentec award. Bridgewater won a laser beam profiler, which measures characteristics of a beam of light. It is a visual tool, making it ideal for teaching students and running demonstrations for youngsters who visit campus during open lab nights.

“This kind of equipment is already standard in the industry,” said Dr. Samuel Serna, an assistant professor of physics.

Gentec sought to support U.S. university optics laboratories so students have access to the same instruments they will use during their careers. It selected winners based upon how each would use the equipment and how many students might benefit.

“I was aware of the call for this prize online and saw it fit perfectly with BSU’s profile,” Serna said.

Photonics uses light to revolutionize telecommunications, transportation and other industries. BSU and Stonehill College offer a certificate for future technicians while Bridgewater also has its own undergraduate photonics and optical engineering minor and an optics concentration within the Department of Physics. A major is under development.

The new programs come as photonics moves from specialized laboratories to mainstream manufacturing.

“For that we need not PhDs, but engineers and technicians,” Serna said of meeting workforce demands. “Bridgewater is one of the few schools that fills that slot.”

Meanwhile, photonics laboratory space is under construction on campus and BSU has joined the Quantum Economic Development Consortium. This group of academic, industry and other stakeholders aims to grow the emerging U.S. quantum-based industry, including closing workforce gaps. Photonics, Serna explained, helps unlock the potential of quantum technology.

“Bridgewater is being recognized nationwide as one of the players interested in photonics technologies,” Serna said.

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