Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Clemson University team up to close the education gap in manufacturing light-based technologies

Students and technologists across the country will soon have a new and interactive way to learn about manufacturing the light-based technologies that are crucial for a host of next-generation products and services, including high-speed wireless networks. The experience will be designed to teach students about photonics manufacturing but not in the traditional book-and-lecture format. Students will learn in online “modules” that incorporate virtual reality, augmented reality, videos and programs that teach but in some cases feel like video games.

Researchers expect their approach to make complex topics in photonics manufacturing more accessible to a wider range of students than if they had to learn solely by sitting in classrooms. The team developing the simulation includes researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Clemson University and the University of Arizona.

Photonics manufacturers make optical fiber and a wide range of devices that most consumers hardly notice but are critical to modern technology, including the internet, lasers, and CT scans. Optical fiber will be in even higher demand as 5G wireless networks are installed and begin carrying vast amounts of data that enable new technologies, such as car-to-car communication.

A special focus of the project is integrated photonics. Integrated photonics, a technology that uses circuits powered by light, is rapidly emerging within the advanced manufacturing scene. This integration of light and electronics can be used to do such things as send signals from computer chips directly into optical fibers at ultra-high speeds.

About 40 educational modules will be rolled out over the next three years and researchers plan to package them as the Virtual Manufacturing Lab. Some will target technical colleges, while others will be geared for undergraduates and graduate students at universities and four-year colleges. The modules will be offered through the MITx course and Clemson’s

The new modules are aimed at doing for photonics manufacturing what researchers from the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development have done for other forms of advanced manufacturing.

The researchers leading Clemson’s share of the photonics manufacturing project are Drs.Kapil Chalil Madathil, Jeffrey Bertrand, and John Ballato.