Posts Tagged ‘photonics’

The ABC’s of Photonics Technician Jobs

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

In 2009, ATE’s National Center for Optics and Photonics Education conducted a survey which found that to keep up with industry demand, U.S. employers will need to add approximately 1,200 new photonics technicians each year through 2014. Photonics is “the technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon.” The demand for technicians trained in its applications is not surprising — it turns out there’s hardly an industry in existence that doesn’t require workers with this expertise. From Agriculture to Engineering, from Environmental Technology to Homeland Security, as well as Manufacturing, Medicine and Transportation, there’s a growing need for photonics technicians. (See full list below.)

We turned to the National Photonics Skill Standards for Technicians to learn about a few of these wide-ranging career opportunities and to better understand what the jobs entail. (With so many industries to choose from, we decided to start at the beginning of the alphabet.)

A is for Aerospace. Photonics technicians are critically important to the aerospace and national defense industries. Why? Because unlike using conventional electronic energy, the photonics devices must be resistant to electromagnetic interference. In this industry, light energy is specifically used in infrared systems and image processing. Technicians work with engineers and scientists to construct, test, operate and maintain systems for all kinds of spacecraft and national defense control systems. Specific job responsibilities might include operating, installing, calibrating, troubleshooting and repairing equipment.

On a typical day, a photonics technician in the aerospace industry might find himself or herself collecting and recording data, operating test equipment, performing lab tests, developing tests to ensure quality control, modifying procedures to solve specific problems, or laying out experimental circuits to test scientific theories.

B is for Biomedicine. Biomedical optics and medical imaging are key components of the health care industry, and photonics technicians play key roles in their operations.

According to the Photonics Skill Standards, photonics technicians in medicine work in hospitals and research facilities to install, inspect, maintain and repair complex equipment and instruments used in medical diagnosis and treatment. Equipment might specifically include electronic devices, optical components, diagnostic scanners, ultrasound equipment, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines and lasers used in surgery.

Day-to-day responsibilities could include inspecting and testing equipment to make sure it complies with performance and safety standards. If you go into Biomedicine, you might also find yourself handling equipment maintenance to head off problems and prevent small problems from becoming serious issues. Technicians also might find themselves dissembling equipment to locate malfunctioning components, replacing defective parts, and then reassembling the equipment. Once those tasks are complete, you might also be responsible for adjusting and calibrating the equipment to make sure it’s operating according to manufacturer specifications. Keeping careful records of machine repairs and maintenance checks is another essential component of the job.

C is for Communication (including fiber optics, transmitters and sensors). If you’re a photonics technician who chooses a career in the Communication field, you are likely to wind up working for a company that uses optical fiber capable of carrying telephone voice services across local regional and nationwide networks. Which companies, you ask? It could be any corporation, bank, university or other large entity that depends on private networks to transmit digital data. You might also wind up working for a cable television or community antenna television (CATV) company, both of which use optical fiber systems to transmit signals to subscribers via video. On any given day, you might work with sophisticated electronic test equipment as well as fusion splicers, optical power meters and laser sources and detectors.

Still curious about the rest of the alphabet? Here are some more industries where photonics applications — and photonics technicians — are integral to business.

Agriculture – Uses satellite remote sensing to detect large-scale crop effects, scanning technology and infrared imaging to monitor food production and quality, and sensor systems for planting and irrigation.

Construction – Includes scanning site topography, laser bar-code readers to inventory materials, laser distance measuring and alignment, and three-dimensional analysis to track the progress of construction.

Engineering, microtechnology, and nanotechnology
– Uses lasers in the manufacture of electrical devices, motors, engines, semiconductor chips, circuits, and computers; via photolithography, photonics is central to production.

Environmental technology – Uses ultraviolet Doppler optical absorption spectroscopy (UV-DOAS) to monitor air quality; uses fast Fourier transform analysis to monitor particulate matter in effluents released from stacks.

Geographic information systems and global positioning
– Uses optics and photonics in imaging and image processing to refine atmospheric and space-based images.

Information technology – Uses optics for data storage, ultrafast data switching, and (especially) transmission of data across fiber-optic networks.

Chemical technology
– Relies on molecular optical spectroscopy for analysis and on ultra-short laser pulses to induce fluorescence; chemical vapor deposition and plasma etching support photonics thin film applications.

Transportation – Uses optics for monitoring exhaust emissions to ensure the integrity of shipping containers arriving from foreign ports, and navigation with ring laser gyroscopes .

Homeland security – DNA scanning, laser forensics, retinal scanning, identification of dangerous substances, optical surveillance.

– Laser welding, drilling, and cutting; precision measurements.

Course Catalog: Laser and Photonics Technology

Sunday, March 6th, 2011


In this week’s Episode, ATETV talked with Andy Dawson, a student enrolled in the Laser and Photonics Technology program at Central Carolina Community College.

Photonics is an emerging technology that encompasses a number of exciting components (lasers, optics, LED”s and fiber optics, for example) that are widely used in today’s industries, from telecommunications and manufacturing to nanotechnology, biomedicine and homeland security.

According to the Central Carolina Community College website graduates of the school’s two-year Laser and Photonics Technology program might additionally pursue job opportunities in fiber optic communications, materials processing, and laser surgery facilities, with specific positions focused on product testing, field service, product development or sales.

Where to start?

As Andy Dawson told ATETV, math is an important part of the Laser and Photonics curriculum, with courses in Algebra/Trigonometry, Statistical Quality Control and Physics-Mechanics helping to form the program’s backbone.

But that’s only the beginning. Here’s a glimpse of some of the other areas that are part of the Lasers and Photonics course catalog:

Computers: The Introduction to Computers and Basic PC Literacy classes provide students with the fundamentals of hardware, software, and computer operations, as well as security issues.

Electronics: Beginning with the basics – soldering/desoldering, problem solving and operating test equipment – classes in Electronics cover semiconductor-based devices, Digital Electronics and Troubleshooting techniques.

Lasers and Photonics: With an emphasis on hands-on instruction, the Lasers and Photonics curriculum helps students immerse in the scientific properties of laser beams and optics technologies. Starting with the properties of light and overviews of optical theory and optical equipment, the Lasers and Photonics curriculum builds to cover the principles of Fiber Optics, and to introduce students to a variety of Photonics Applications, including materials processing, bar code scanning, surgical applications, optical data storage and optical computers.

Sound interesting? For more information on Laser and Optics Technology programs at community colleges around the country, check out OP-TEC, The National Center for Optics and Photonics Education.

Biophotonics Merge Medicine and Lasers

Friday, July 30th, 2010
Bio- photo- whatics?  Can this be the career for you?

Bio- photo- whatics? Can this be the career for you?

Last March, we wrote about LaserFest, the year-long celebration of the laser’s 50th birthday. The celebration is still going strong, and so are new applications for lasers.

So, what career opportunities are there for someone studying lasers? According to the Laserfest website , the future is indeed bright for these powerful light sources. Besides powering extremely efficient computer and communications systems and providing alternative energy sources, medical applications for lasers are widespread, and growing. Laserfest notes that within the next five to ten years, doctors may be able to improve cancer diagnoses via lasers that illuminate cellular activity. In addition, lasers are expected to aid in the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease by measuring a protein called beta amyloid (associated with the disease) with a pulsed, blue laser aimed directly at the eye.

Technically known as Biophotonics, this field that merges medicine and lasers is defined as “the study of the interaction of light with biological material — where ‘light’ includes all forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon.” Simply put, biophotonics enable doctors to noninvasively image and analyze living tissue — everything from diagnostics to surgeries (such as Laser Eye Surgery). In fact, according to The Center for Biophotonics, Science and Technology (CBST), Biophotonics is widely regarded as the key science upon which the next generation of clinical tools and biomedical research instruments will be based.

The CBST is a great place to learn more about the field. Created in 2002 as part of a National Science Foundation project and located at the University of California Davis, the CBST is building an extensive network of schools, industrial partners and Biophotonics research centers to help prepare for the field’s rapidly developing advances. Here, you can learn about specific educational programs at community colleges and four-year colleges throughout the U.S., as well as learn more about the science of Biophotonics.

What would a typical Laser and Photonics curriculum look like? Check out the program at Central Carolina Community College, which we heard about in this week’s Episode. The CCCC program, which offers a specialized Biophotonics curriculum track, is designed to use the majority of its instruction time in lab environments to help students put classroom theory into action. And what makes for a successful experience? According to the CCCC, successful Photonics students enjoy problem-solving, working with their hands, and learning how things work. An interest in math and science is also valuable.

Finally, if you’d like to listen to stories about how lasers are being used in medicine and science (told with a British accent), tune in to Naked Scientists Podcasts. There, you’ll find news and interviews about everything from laser “tweezers” being used to pick up bacteria to laser cancer treatments and a laser technique that’s speeding DNA sequencing.

Lasers Celebrate Their 50th Birthday

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
Green 532nm 10mW refracted from a 5 carat diamond.-  © Photograph by Marco Nero

Green 532nm 10mW refracted from a 5 carat diamond.- © Photograph by Marco Nero

Lasers Turn 50 and the Celebration Lasts All Year!

There’s no question that laser technology is important to industry and to our workforce. Lasers are widely used throughout medicine and surgery. Lasers are integral to our telecommunications infrastructure. Lasers are helping to create the jobs of the future.

But, let’s face it: Lasers are also fun. As Laser and Photonics Engineering student Todd Devine confessed, “I’ve always liked lasers, ever since I was little.”

If you, too, have always been intrigued by the power and precision of these multi-colored light beams, you’ll want to check out LaserFest, the year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the laser. As their website announces, “From DVD players to eye surgery, the laser is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century — one that has revolutionized the way we live.”

Think you know all about lasers? Take this quick quiz:

Question: What does “laser” stand for?
Answer: Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation

Question: When did lasers first become part of our “everyday” lives?
Answer: In 1974, when the bar code was first used in retail stores

Question: What is the estimated dollar value of lasers to our economy?
Answer: The devices and services that rely on lasers are thought to play a role in more than $3 trillion worth of commerce annually.

And a multiple choice question:
Lasers have recently been used to a) Clean several famous works of art; b) Shoot down mosquitoes in mid-flight; c) Identify a bank robber and analyze rocks on Mars; d) All of the above.

Answer: d) All of the above.

In fact, the reason that lasers are so valuable to our lives isn’t just because of their power. A real selling point of laser technology is the fact that the photons in light beams move with extreme focus and precision, making lasers ideal for sending messages over long distances or for accurately reading the messages contained in DVDs, bar codes, or even biological cells.

So, the next time you pop a copy of “Star Wars” in your DVD player consider this: Without lasers, you wouldn’t be watching that DVD. And without his laser beam, Darth Vader would be powerless.

ATETV Episode 27: The Numbers Add Up

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

This week we begin by exploring Lasers and Photonics Technologies and Wind Energy technology, and end by focusing on the ways that community colleges are providing students with the core math skills they’ll need to succeed in both of these fields –as well as every other area of technology.

In our first segment, we meet Central Carolina Community College student Todd Devine, who is enrolled in the college’s Laser and Photonics Engineering program. “I have always liked lasers, and ever since I was little I was tinkering with things, and it’s just grown from there.” This lifelong interest is now evolving into a promising career path, with laser technology being used in fields as diverse as surgical procedures and music and video technology.

“Every day there is a new application coming out for lasers, so it’s creating a lot of jobs,” notes Central Carolina’s Gary Beasley. “And guess what? There are not enough technicians to support those applications in the medical field or in telecommunications.” But Central Carolina’s program aims to change that, and Todd Devine is proof positive.

“When I graduate, I think I am going to look toward the medical fields that are dealing with lasers, and help mankind in some way,” says Todd. “I want to do something useful for the world.”

Similarly, as we see in our second segment, the students in the Wind Energy program at Wyoming’s Laramie County Community College are also looking at their technology curriculum as important not just for their careers, but also for our environment and our society.

“When my students come to class, people aren’t sleeping,” says Laramie’s Michael Schmidt. “They are very focused on what they are learning. These people are excited.”

The Wind Energy program is designed to prepare technicians to go into the wind industry to repair utility skill wind turbines, large commercial machines with complex control systems that allow them to produce energy efficiently and to maximize capability. The highly skilled students who emerge from the program are versed in all aspects of wind energy technology, from introduction to wind power, to electricity, hydraulics, and all of the basic core skills needed to excel in the field.

And essential to students’ success is a firm foundation in mathematics. “Math and science are very critical,” adds Michael Schmidt. “Mathematics, specifically, apply to the technical part of the program. Our technicians have to have an understanding of how power is produced. They have to have an understanding of power quality because this power is ultimately delivered to a utility, ends up on a grid and is then delivered to the consumer.”

Which brings us to our third segment, which shows us why community colleges are great places for students to get up to speed in algebra, calculus and other core math skills.

“All technology goes back to math,” notes Scott Edwards of Juniper Networks. “The more you know about math, the better you understand it, and the more clear will be the complex topics that you are going to learn in the future.”

And community college programs provide the support and guidance to enable students to tackle the challenges of higher level mathematics. As Laser and Photonics student Todd Devine tells prospective students, “If you are struggling with math in high school right now, [you should know] that if you just study hard and work through it, it will all pay off.”

Adds Andrew Maynard of the Springfield Technical Community College faculty, “The nice thing about community colleges is that if you are not up to speed in math — whether because you’ve been out of school for awhile or because you had trouble with math in high school — we offer remedial classes to help bring you up to the college level, so you don’t fail.”

And, as this week’s episode shows, success in math translates to success in any technology career.

Gary Beasley: Recruiting for the Future

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

As head of the lasers and photonics program at Central Carolina Community College, Gary Beasley spends much of his time recruiting students, speaking at local high schools and putting on laser workshops.

When he meets prospective students, Gary asks them a series of questions to judge whether they would be a good fit for the program: “Are you interested in science? Technology? Learning just how things work? Do you enjoy problem solving – any type of problem solving? Do you enjoy helping people with problems? How do you feel about math? Do you like it? Are you comfortable with it?”

If you answered yes to these questions, you might be exactly the type of student that Gary – and other ATE program heads – are looking for. Students like the ones in these stories Gary shared with us:

“One of my students worked his way through the program at a chicken &
barbeque restaurant that I frequently visited,” he recounts. “During his second year, he landed a job as a technician, making $40,000, working second shift while he finished school. Upon graduation, he was lured to another company at $50,000.”

Another former student has his name on two patents for optical systems, just four years after graduating!

Then there is the mother and daughter who both went through the program. Originally, the mother attended a laser workshop with her youngest daughter and was so impressed that she enrolled for herself. Her oldest daughter, an accounting major, was so taken with her mother’s success that she switched over, too. Now both women work at a major laser manufacturer and love their careers.

With success stories like these, it’s no wonder that enrollment in the program is up the past couple of years!

If you are considering lasers and photonics as a career path, Gary recommends a two-year associate degree over a four-year degree. In addition to its lower cost and hands-on approach, Gary sees the two-year program as the best route to further education. “You will be able to get a high-paying, high-tech job in two years and can continue your education while making high pay,” he says. “And more than likely, the company you work for will cover the majority of your continued education toward higher degrees.”

Like many ATE programs, CCCC’s laser and photonics program is a gateway to a lucrative career and to further studies in the field. With advantages like that, it’s a program that practically sells itself.