National Science Foundation bolsters LASER-TEC programs with supplemental awards


John Anderson, LASER-TEC technologist, manufactures laser stands using resin and rubber-silicon casting. The stands will be part of the Light and Optics Experiment Kits (LOEK)s manufactured by the LASER-TEC Center housed at Indian River State College. The kits provide every student in The Optics and Photonics College Network (OPCN) nationwide with a kit allowing them to conduct experiments required to complete their laboratories from the safety of their homes during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The LASER-TEC Center has sent 116 kits to students at 11 colleges across the country.

The Center for Laser and Fiber Optic Education, LASER-TEC, headquartered at Indian River State College (IRSC), has received two new supplemental grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education Program (ATE) totaling $311,655.

Support for “Light and Optics Experiment Kits for Home Study During COVID-19” in the amount of $162,405 accelerates LASER-TEC’s ability to build and ship Light and Optics Experiment Kits (LOEK) to all OPCN (Optics and Photonics College Network) students that are homebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and helps finance the creation of videos for 23 experiments to assist students with remote learning. LOEK was created by LASER-TEC and OPCN is a network of 40 U.S. colleges and universities directed by LASER-TEC. (Many photonics technicians are working in advanced technology companies using electro-optical systems to develop vaccines for COVID-19 or decontamination of materials and surfaces using ultraviolet laser light.)

The project entitled “Laser Power Source System using Wide Bandgap Semiconductors” received $149,250 in funding to produce educational materials and curriculum for college instructors and students, and design, build and deliver a laser energizing source using wide bandgap semiconductor technology. This project is in collaboration with Power America, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Advanced Manufacturing Institute, headquartered at North Carolina State University, Raleigh.

“As of today, we have built and shipped 127 LOEKs to students studying remotely in 15 different states—receiving many emails of thanks and appreciation. We are so grateful for the quick approval of this project from the NSF ATE program,” shares Dr. Chrys Panayiotou, Executive Director and Principal Investigator at LASER-TEC. “The Power America project is exciting because it allows us to build the first high power energizer for class 4 lasers, using the new technology of Wide Bandgap Semiconductors. The new device, along with educational training products, will be used to educate future laser-photonics technicians in the 40 colleges we lead through OPCN.”

About The Center for Laser and Fiber Optics Education, LASER-TEC
Headquartered at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, The Center for Laser and Fiber Optics Education, LASER-TEC, was founded by the National Science Foundation in 2013 and is an association of community and state colleges, universities, high schools and technical centers, trade associations, and laser and fiber optic (LFO) companies that serves the Nation. LASER-TEC invites academic and industry partners to join in its mission to meet the demand for a trained laser and fiber optics workforce across the United States. 

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