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WPI, QCC get $4M for new photonics lab

January 11, 2018
Grant Welker
Grant Welker
WPI President Laurie Leshin addresses attendees of an announcement of a new $4 million photonics lab. The lab will help with research and for students to prepare for careers in the field, she said.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Quinsigamond Community College announced Thursday they'll start a new photonics lab thanks to a $4-million Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative grant.

The lab is expected to better help students at both schools and researchers in a scientific field making advancements in endoscopy and prosthetics, as well as in manufacturing.

"Students will be able to work with tools and equipment that they'll use [in the field] tomorrow," QCC President Luis Pedraja said.

Plans for the lab are not finalized, but it is expected to share space at WPI's Gateway Park with the college's PracticePoint, an initiative for health care research and development. PracticePoint was launched just last year through a $5-million state grant.

The lab will be known as the Photonics Academy Lab for Education & Application Prototypes, or the acronym LEAP. WPI President Laurie Leshin, who has a aerospace background, couldn't help but make a play-on-words in her remarks.

"It's the next giant LEAP forward for Central Massachusetts," she said.

Officials from both schools said the lab will help area students play a more critical role in the area's photonics field.

The grant was announced at WPI with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who touted the state's initiatives on innovation. Polito called Quinsigamond's involvement in the new lab "critical" for workforce development.

"Investing in places works, and investing in people also works," said Polito, a Shrewsbury native.

The announcement also included two business leaders who described how they'd benefit from better photonics research and education: Susan Mailman, the owner and president of Coghlin Electrical Contractors and Coghlin Network Services, and Lavon Winkler, the president of the Worcester manufacturer FLEXcon.

Winkler, whose company makes film and adhesive products, said projects such as the new photonics lab will help Massachusetts companies with a competitive advantage.

"What happens when industries collaborate is a beautiful thing," Winkler said.

Photonics, which uses light and lasers, is used in a wide array of fields, including fiber optics that allow for much faster data, and endoscopy, a nonsurgical type of procedure. Photonics technology is used in flatscreen TVs, CDs and DVDs, autonomous vehicles and cellphones.

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