Optics and Photonics
A Bright Spot
Central Florida's optics and photonics industry is a beacon in the state's tech community.
Central Florida is home to approximately 100 businesses involved in optics and photonics, the science of using light. "It's everything from the generation of light to the manipulation of light to the detection of light," says Alfred Ducharme, assistant professor in the College of Optics & Photonics at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Since the early 1960s, central Florida has been a center for photonics -- a generic term that encompasses various technologies, including electro-optics, optical fibers, lasers and biophotonics, among others. In the mid-1980s, the Florida Legislature provided support for the growing industry when it created the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) at the University of Central Florida.
Today, central Florida photonics companies employ about 20,000. Salaries range from $45,000 for new photonics technology graduates with a bachelor's degree to $70,000 or more for those with graduate degrees.
The combination of a photonics industry cluster along with academic research and training makes Orlando one of only a few top photonics centers nationwide. The other leaders are Rochester, N.Y., home of Eastman Kodak and the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Tucson, Ariz., with a new college of optical sciences at the University of Arizona.
HARNESSING LIGHT: UCF'S NanoPhotonics System Fabrication Facility in Orlando.
What Does $10 Million Buy?
In 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush's emerging technology board selected the University of Central Florida to receive $10 million to create the Florida Photonics Center of Excellence (FPCE). Two other schools, the University of Florida and Florida Atlantic University, also each received $10 million to create specialized research institutes.
Today, the FPCE is up and running, using its $10 million for public-private research projects, expert faculty, new facilities and outreach programs, including support of a K-12 photonics education program in conjunction with the National Science Foundation.
The focus at FPCE is on four photonics applications of the future -- biophotonics, nanophotonics, imaging and displays and ultra-high-speed optical communications. Already, UCF has recruited Dennis Deppe, an expert in biophotonics from the University of Texas at Austin, to fill a $1-million newly created endowed chair. Worldwide searches are under way to fill two additional endowed chairs in nanophotonics and imaging and displays.
FPCE has used $3.1 million of its $10 million in funding for 24 "partnership projects" that matched five Florida universities with 20 private companies. In return, FPCE has received private sector funding (in the form of cash, equipment and in-kind support) totaling $5.2 million for the 24 projects.