Laser and Photonics—One of the fastest growing high-tech industries in the world

So you walk into a store, scan the barcode to check the price of an item, and use a cell phone to inform a friend about the deal. Voila! You just took advantage of laser and photonics technology—the science capitalizing on the technology of light.

Photonics is the science of light that entails controlled flow of photons or light particles. It involves use of cutting-edge lasers, optics, fiber-optics, and electro-optical devices in numerous and diverse fields such as manufacturing, health care and aerospace technologies. Indeed, photonics is one of the fastest growing high-tech industries in the world, and the demand for qualified personnel is at an all-time high.

Given its potential and varied applications, Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) recently took a leading role in establishing a laser and photonics academy at Wekiva High School. The academy was established in December, 2009 and is a collaborative effort between Northrup Grumman, Valencia Community College and OCPS. As part of the partnership, Northrup Grumman invested $50,000 in equipment and funds, while VCC will be providing the curriculum, on-site electrical test equipment and staff needed to support the program.

The Wekiva High School Laser and Photonics Career Academy currently has 38 students enrolled in the program, and is the first of its kind in Florida. Courses include mathematics, science, communications, electronics, and optics. Students also gain laboratory experience by using state-of-the art equipment that prepares them to operate and maintain laser and photonics-based systems.

Nasser Hedayat, dean of architecture, engineering and technology at VCC says “The program is designed to train students for careers in manufacturing, or building circuit devices that use optical or laser technology”. To qualify students need to be in the 9th grade, have an overall 2.5 GPA, and fill out a dual enrollment form at VCC. Upon successful completion of the program students have the flexibility to enter the workforce and secure entry-level positions as an engineering, manufacturing, laser, photonics technician, or continue their formal education towards a degree at the college level.

Eight high schools currently participate in this dual enrollment program that allows students to earn 48 college credits towards an Associate of Science degree. Hedayat says the ultimate plan is for the high school students to complete the laser and photonics specialization of the electronics engineering technology degree at VCC. “Northrup and Lockeed Martin are two major companies in the area and they have a great need for technicians that are proficient in using laser photonics technology”.

For more information on the program call Professor Ali Notash at 407.582.1937, or visit http://www.wekivahigh.ocps.net/.