WORCESTER – Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Quinsigamond Community College have received a $4 million grant to start an integrated photonics laboratory together, college and state officials announced Thursday.
The award, issued by the state through the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative, will cover the purchase of high-tech equipment needed for the colleges’ joint programming in photonics – the emerging field of generating and harnessing light for use in technology.
The lab will be physically located at WPI’s Gateway II building with the university’s new medical technology lab, PracticePoint, which received a $5 million grant of its own from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative last April.
At the grant announcement at WPI’s main campus, college officials and business leaders hailed the photonics initiative, called the AIM Photonics Academy Lab for Education & Application Prototypes, or LEAP for short, as a catalyst for the region’s jump into the burgeoning integrated photonics industry.
“This innovation will not only help us solve problems in new and exciting ways, but it lifts families with good jobs, and the economy with good businesses,” said WPI President Laurie Leshin.
QCC President Luis Pedraja said the workforce development angle of the undertaking will especially benefit the region’s students.
“I think by creating a workforce that is trained in this area … we are truly able to prepare our students for the jobs of the future,” he said.
Photonics plays an integral role in a number of emergent technologies, from drones and flat-screen TVs to automated cars, according to faculty members at the two schools.
“I see a shift from electronics to photonics all around me,” said Susan Mailman, chairwoman of QCC’s board of trustees and president of Worcester-based Coghlin Electrical Contractors. The new LEAP lab, she added, is poised to be a “one-stop shop” for students and businesses looking to capitalize on that trend. “The real magic” of the initiative, she said, “is the real application, the practical application of education.”
The new WPI and QCC lab will be the second state grant-funded LEAP lab in the state, after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology opened its LEAP facility last year.
“What sets this (Worcester) initiative apart … is that this one has a connection to a community college, and that’s really critical for Massachusetts,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who was at Thursday’s event to announce the grant. Furthermore, the new LEAP lab is set up strategically between major photonics programs in Albany, New York, and Boston. “We’re creating a complete pipeline,” she said, “and we’re right in the middle of it.”
The state, which sees photonics as a critical arm of its tech-based economy, doesn’t want to stop there, however.
“We’re looking to build a network of these types of facilities across Massachusetts,” said Timothy Connelly, executive director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.