AIM Photonics and Spark Photonics Team Up to Develop Hands-on Educational PIC Chip

Monday, December 20, 2021
AIM Photonics

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Morgan Kaler, senior undergraduate in Physics, and Peter Hedlesky, Ph.D. student in Applied Physics use a state-of-the art Maple Leaf Photonics probe station at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s LEAP facility to align an optical fiber to a waveguide on a passive AIM/Spark Photonics EWD PIC chip.Supply chain issues and current shortages in microchip production has led to an innovative solution to help alleviate this issue in the future by empowering the emerging workforce through experiential learning. Spark Photonics, an independent commercial photonic integrated circuit (PIC) design house based in Waltham, and the national AIM Photonics manufacturing institute have teamed up to develop a hands-on educational PIC chip! Supply chain issues, compounded with the current shortage in chip production, prompted this partnership, which led to a new educational kit and chips that are entirely designed, developed, manufactured, and distributed here in the U.S. to help enhance hands-on learning opportunities for integrated photonics.

The new chips are being manufactured at AIM Photonics’ lab in Albany, NY, the announcement highlights the strong leadership from photonics organizations across Massachusetts. In addition to Spark Photonics, R&D partners involved in the development of the new PIC kits included Worcester Polytechnic Institute and UMass Dartmouth, which both played key testing roles.  Spark’s first customer for the kits is Western New England University’s Laboratory for Education and Application Prototypes (LEAP@WNE) in Springfield, a state-of-the-art optics/photonics training center supported through a $2.5M grant from the M2I2 program. The lab is a part of a network of four LEAPs located across the state that have received support through M2I2 program, bolstering training opportunities within integrated photonic.

Integrated photonics has been identified by the U.S. Department of Defense as a critical technology for both national and economic security, according to the piece. The new kit also has a strong commercial focus, as Spark Photonics Founder and CEO Kevin McComber saw a unique business opportunity to develop and market for an educational PIC chip. The new kit will give both students and members of the integrated photonics industry supply chain a functional chip that can helps them learn how to use and calibrate equipment, test and work with different features and components, and better understand PIC device design.

WNEU Associate Professor Steve Adamshick, the director of LEAP@WNE, highlighted this point, noting the impact this new domestically-produced kit will have on his students:

“This is a far more effective way of communicating critical integrated photonics concepts to students,” he said. “Before, we relied heavily on computer simulation tools to visualize abstract concepts such as guided wave modes and how they contribute to key parameters such as waveguide loss and confinement. Now, with the EWD PIC kits, we can provide the hands-on learning experiences to demonstrate these concepts in action and, more importantly, close the loop from design to fabrication to test.”

This project is a real win-win for the photonics industry, small businesses, academia, and R&D centers across the country! Learn more about the project on AIM Photonics website.