Photonics – the science of guiding and manipulating light – enables applications ranging from telecommunications, artificial intelligence and quantum computing to medical imaging, lidar and augmented reality displays. But despite the importance of this growing field, the country faces a shortage of photonics and electronics technicians and engineers.
The Lab for Education and Application Prototypes (LEAP), located on the fifth floor of MIT.nano, is a research lab that also functions as a hands-on classroom for learning how to package electronic and photonic chips. This open-access facility was the first of what is now a network of five labs supporting innovation in advanced manufacturing across Massachusetts.
MIT LEAP is equipped with tools for electronic-photonic packaging, including a bonding die, wire bonding devices, an X-ray inspection system, a large-area microscope, a plasma and a reflow oven for soldering applications — but it’s not just about the tools, says Anu Agarwal, senior scientist at the Materials Research Laboratory and head of LEAP at MIT.
“LEAP is about what we do with the tools. We educate students from everywhere – MIT, other four-year institutions, community colleges and industry employees – to understand technology and develop prototypes to advance manufacturing and strengthen the future workforce. in electronics and photonics,” she says.
The History of MIT’s LEAP
The LEAP Network began in 2015 as a result of a federal initiative to revitalize manufacturing in the United States. The AIM Photonics National Manufacturing Institute and the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative, a state grant program run by the MassTech Collaborative, have allocated $11.3 million to build labs across Massachusetts. Under the direction of MIT Microphotonics Center Director Lionel Kimerling, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Associate Director of MIT.nano Brian Anthony, Senior Researcher in Mechanical Engineering, and Associate Director of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories for Computing and CAO Duane Boning, the Clarence J. LeBel Professor of Electrical Engineering, $1 million has been awarded for the first LEAP to be established at MIT.
LEAP aims to accomplish four main tasks – teaching the practice of integrated photonic fabrication; provide training and certification for technicians in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); encourage startup and SME engagement in tool, process and application upgrades; and support AIM Photonics multi-project plates and test, assembly and packaging centers.
To achieve these goals, faculty and staff at MIT’s Knowledge and Innovation in Manufacturing (IKIM) Initiative, led by Kimerling, offer blended learning boot camps that include a hands-on component through through the AIM Photonics Academy, a branch of the national AIM. Photonics Institute located at MIT, to train learners in integrated photonic testing and conditioning. LEAP is used by undergraduate students to study packaging science, by graduate students to conduct research on packaging innovations, and by local industry for prototyping. In January 2022, the Microphotonics Center and IKIM launched an Electronic-Photonics Packaging Industry Consortium, led by Agarwal, to promote pre-competitive partnerships between academic institutions, businesses, and government to develop ideas that will lead to next-generation products.
“In addition to academic institutions, it is important to support local businesses,” says Farhad Vazehgoo, MassTech’s director for advanced technology programs and workforce development. “By introducing SMEs such as Pendar Technologies and Sheaumann Laser to MassTech funding opportunities, MIT’s LEAP is helping us lay the foundation for new photonics companies across the state, which will enable the creation of manufacturing jobs. high-tech integrated photonics.”
Expansion into Massachusetts
From its origins at MIT, the LEAP Network has grown to include five integrated photonics-based labs in Massachusetts, creating a geographically distributed network focused on STEM education, workforce development, and collaboration. industry/university.
Laboratories are not all the same. While MIT LEAP focuses on conditioning, LEAP at Worcester Polytechnic Institute/Quinsigamond Community College specializes in biomedical photonics applications; Stonehill College’s LEAP is a center for materials characterization and high-speed device testing; and Bridgewater State University’s LEAP focuses on mid-infrared lasers and photonics based on quantum devices. The fifth LEAP, established at Western New England University/Convergent Photonics in 2020, focuses on high-power lasers.
Having these different specialties creates an ecosystem of diverse expertise statewide with the common goal of training the manufacturing workforce throughout the photonics supply chain. The facilities are strategically located near community colleges, bringing together different hierarchies of academic institutions as well as different students. “Not everyone wants to get a PhD,” says Agarwal, emphasizing the importance of reaching all types of learners and at different stages of their careers.
Practical teaching of photonics
To support lab training, LEAPs use hands-on photonics education kits created by the AIM Photonics Institute. The kits include chips designed by Rochester Institute of Technology Professor Stefan Preble, University of Rochester Assistant Professor Jaime Cardenas, and Boston University Associate Professor Miloš Popović, and manufactured at the AIM Foundry Photonics under the direction of Kimerling. These chips consist of passive and active photonic integrated circuit devices that can be tested by grating coupling or edge coupling from fiber to chip. The kits also include detailed lab manuals for instructors and students.
After a hiatus from boot camps due to Covid-19, Agarwal says, LEAP is resuming regular activities for individuals in industry, academia and government. From March 22-24, LEAPs from MIT and Bridgewater State University offered the first joint Integrated Photonics Boot Camp to train engineers to package and test photonics and electronic devices. At MIT.nano, learners glued surface-mount light-emitting diodes to printed circuit boards using a high-speed pick and place tool; performed solder reflow and X-ray imaging; and programmed their sensors to light up the diodes. Testing of the device was performed at Bridgewater State University LEAP.
Those unable to attend LEAP workshops in person can take advantage of the AIM Photonics Academy online courses hosted by Manufacturing USA of the US Department of Defense. IKIM is also developing a series of virtual reality (VR)-based training tool simulations led by MIT researcher Erik Verlage and AIM Photonics Academy Director of Education Sajan Saini using LEAP simulation servers from MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Duane Boning’s lab. At the recent bootcamp, attendees tested these desktop VR simulations to demonstrate how they can minimize physical tool orientation time, reduce tool breakage due to newcomer error, and enable remote training and at your own pace.
The MIT team continues to collaborate with the other four LEAPs to take advantage of the different capabilities of the tools. “The LEAP Network strives to be a model of blended learning STEM workforce education and training for the rest of the country,” says Agarwal. “From ideas to real labs, to educating current and future generations, we aim to spark interest and engagement in STEM,” adds Kimerling.