Indian River State College: LASER-TEC Center Develops Photonics Education Kits to Support Remote Learning for Students Nationwide

Robert Lane
Member Spotlight

Founded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2013, the Center for Laser and Fiber Optics Education (LASER-TEC) faced a new challenge as the spread of COVID-19 impacted LASER-TEC institutions. Headquartered at Indian River State College (IRSC) in Fort Pierce, Florida, LASER-TEC is comprised of colleges, universities, high schools and technical centers, trade associations, and laser and fiber optics companies throughout the United States. The center’s mission is to develop and sustain a strong technical workforce in lasers and fiber optics nationwide. Remaining committed to that goal, LASER-TEC created an innovative method to address the challenge of continuing students’ photonics laboratory practice as remote learning became prevalent across its institutions.

With full support by the NSF Advanced Technological Education, LASER-TEC developed and manufactured photonics education kits to send to faculty and students at every Optics and Photonics College Network (OPCN) institution at no cost to recipients. As they were requested, staff at the center assembled and mailed the Light and Optic Experiment Kits (LOEKs) directly to the homes of students and faculty across the country—thus minimizing their potential exposure to the virus.

“Developing the LOEK allows students across the nation to continue with experiments and the hands-on learning required for their photonics and optics studies,” said Dr. Chrys Panayiotou, LASER-TEC Executive Director and Principal Investigator. “Our students like the fact that they can do the experiments at their own pace and repeat them as many times as needed until they master the concept or the skill. OPCN instructors appreciate that the kits allow students to experiment remotely and learn all the practical skills of the course.”

Each LOEK supports 18 out of 23 experiments found in the textbook, Fundamentals of Light and Lasers, allowing students to complete the majority of activities from home. Included with the kit is an experiment manual, developed and published by the LASER-TEC Center. In addition, the center is developing videos to guide students through the experiments, which will be available on the LASER-TEC Center YouTube channel. To date, LASER-TEC has delivered 116 kits to students at 11 colleges in Florida, Montana, Georgia, Michigan, Iowa, Washington, New York, California, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

“Using the LOEK has been a unique, fun experience, and I really like doing the labs,” shares Luis Morales of Aibonito, Puerto Rico. Morales is a student of the Photonics Institute of Puerto Rico, Engineering Technology in Photonics & Lasers at Universidad, an OPCN member institution. “Even under quarantine, I have been able to experiment with the laser and the other components. It has been a cool opportunity.”

Click here for more information about LOEKs or the LASER-TEC Center at IRSC.

Lead image: John Anderson, LASER-TEC technologist, manufactures laser stands using resin and rubber-silicon casting.

Robert Lane is a Public Information Specialist at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Opinions expressed in Member Spotlight are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.