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Florida to establish lasers and fiber-optics training center

SPIE Member Chrys Panayiotou is principal investigator for NSF grant

08 November 2013

SPIE Member Chrys Panayiotou is principal investigator for a $2.9 million National Science Foundation grant awarded to Indian River State College (IRSC) in Florida to develop and deliver training in lasers and fiber optics in the US Southeast.

The grant will be used to establish a highly sophisticated Lasers and Fiber Optics Regional Center to help meet the urgent national need for skilled laser and fiber-optics technicians. Workforce projections identify a national need for more than 1500 specialized technicians for lasers and fiber optics, while the present output of US colleges is about 350 each year.

In partnership with a network of 10 colleges and more than 253 companies, IRSC will lead the regional initiative to train technicians to repair and maintain equipment such as MRIs and telephone processing systems that have lasers or fiber optic sensors.

The program will serve as a gateway to high-skill, high-wage employment in new industries after two-years of technical training.

"Training in lasers and fiber optics opens doors in new high-tech manufacturing, providing the skills needed for advancement in the 21st Century, much as traditional manufacturing expertise was a valuable asset in the past," says Panayiotou, IRSC professor of electrical engineering. "Knowledge of lasers and fiber optics will provide unprecedented opportunities as these technologies expand."

photo of students with lasers at photonics lab at Indian River State College
Chrys Panayiotou (at right, holding spray can), Indian River State College professor, conducts hands-on training with students in the Florida college's photonics lab. Photo courtesy of IRSC.

For the past eight years, IRSC has been a partner of OP-TEC, the NSF/ATE National Center for Optics and Photonics Education, in the development of training modules in optical imaging and solar energy technology. IRSC is also collaborating with Corning Fiber Optical Systems for training in the latest fiber optic technologies.

"IRSC's successful partnership with industry leaders at the state and national level was an important factor in our attainment of this competitive grant," said Edwin R. Massey, IRSC president.

The need for job-training programs in photonics, and lasers in particular, was a key recommendation of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), which was launched earlier this year.

The NPI is an alliance of industry, government, and academic representatives seeking to raise awareness of optics and photonics and drive US funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields critical to US competitiveness and national security: advanced manufacturing, communications and information technology, defense and national security, energy, and health and medicine.

Founding sponsors of the NPI are SPIE and OSA.