MIT Giving Hands-on Photonics Education Across Massachusetts


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university situated in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since its establishment, the institute has played a key role in the development of modern technology and science. On the fifth floor of MIT, a research lab serves as a hands-on classroom where students learn how electronic and photonic chips work. This open-access facility was the first in the five labs supporting advanced manufacturing innovation in Massachusetts.

LEAP is about what we are doing with the tools. We are educating students from all over MIT, other four-year institutions, community colleges, and industry employees to understand the technology and develop prototypes to advance manufacturing and strengthen the future electronics and photonics workforce. – Anu Agarwal, principal research scientist in the Materials Research Laboratory and leader of the LEAP at MIT.

How they are giving hands-on?

To support laboratory training, LEAP uses hands-on photonics learning kits created by the AIM Photonics Institute. The kits included chips designed by Professor Stefan Preble of the Rochester Institute of Technology, Jaime Cárdenas of the University of Rochester, and  Miloš Popović, associate professor of Boston University, and manufactured at the AIM Photonics Foundry led by Kimerling. These chips consist of passive and active photonic integrated circuits that can be tested using grating coupling or fiber-to-chip edge coupling. The kits also include detailed workbooks for teachers and students.

After a pause in boot camps due to Covid-19, LEAP is returning to regular activities for people from the industry, academia, and government. On March 22-24, MIT and Bridgewater State University LEAP offered the first joint collaborated photonics boot camp to teach engineers in the packaging and testing of photonics and electronic devices. Solder reflow and X-ray imaging were performed and programmed their sensors to light up the diodes. Device testing was running at Bridgewater State University’s LEAP. Those unable to attend the workshops in person can take the US-hosted AIM Photonics Academy online courses.

The US Department of Defense IKIM, led by MIT researcher Erik Verlage and Sajan Saini Academy of Photonics Education Director at AIM, is also developing a series of virtual reality-based training tools using LEAP simulation servers from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at MIT. At the last boot camp, attendees tested these desktop VR simulations to demonstrate how they can reduce physical tool orientation time, reduce tool breakage due to beginner mistakes, and enable remote training at your own pace.

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