Microelectronics—particularly integrated photonics—has been identified by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as a critical technology for both national and economic security. And while the emerging technology has advanced considerably over the last decade, the development of a highly skilled workforce needed to make integrated photonics commercially viable for both small and large businesses is seriously lagging.
What’s more, unlike other established industries, few education and workforce development programs focus specifically on the integrated photonics industry in the U.S., and only a handful of those offer students the type of hands-on experience that they will face in a real-world manufacturing environment.
With a background in education and workforce development programs for AIM Academy, Kevin McComber (MIT PhD in silicon photonics) knew he could change that.
As founder and CEO of Spark Photonics, an independent commercial photonic integrated circuit (PIC) design house based in Waltham, Massachusetts, McComber saw a unique business opportunity to develop and market an educational PIC chip that gives both students and members of the integrated photonics industry supply chain a functional chip that helps them learn how to use and calibrate equipment, test and work with different features and components, and better understand PIC device design in general.
Although educational chip kits are not new to the industry, McComber said, most of them weren’t entirely manufactured domestically and didn’t always come with helpful documentation. In addition, delivery of the chip kits was often less than reliable, he said, noting that in some cases they simply weren’t even delivered at all.