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Baker College Receives Grant To Expand Photonics And Laser Technology Education

ice-1502735_960_720Lasers have long been a popular theme in the science fiction genre, but scientists and engineers are continuing research to find ways to make use of them in the real world. In fact, lasers have become an extremely popular hair removal method; cosmetic industry figures find that laser hair removal is the most popular aesthetic procedure for women under the age of 35 and is second only to Botox for women over 35 years old. But the newest development in lasers stems from a half a million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to Flint Township’s Baker College, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The grant money will go towards expanding the college’s photonics program, which includes lasers.

“We are working to get photonics — the science and technology of light — into the mainstream of science and technical education at all levels,” said Anca Sala, the dean of engineering at Baker College. “This will draw more young people into the field early on.”

A typical engineer’s salary can vary widely, from $50,000 to $150,000, but having knowledge of photonics definitely puts a recent engineering graduate ahead of the game. Very few higher education institutions offer degree programs in the field; Sala said there are only between 25 and 30 universities nationwide to offer such programs. Baker College’s program is a two year degree in photonics and laser technology.

Sala said that photonics is becoming a highly sought after skill set for many Michigan companies and industries. Baker’s program started back in 2013 and currently enrolls about 30 students a year, but officials hope to boost that number up to 300.

Photons are microscopic light particles with virtually countless scientific uses, Sala explains. They’re used in flat screen TVs to project light and create images. They can be used to gauge depth perception; they’re able to be bounced off surfaces in order to determine how close or far away an object is. But most importantly, medical professionals are using them for surgeries.

Sala also says that photons are used in the manufacturing industry to cut steel, and she feels as though this use can also be applied to weaponry.

“If you can cut through steel, you can shoot something down,” she said.

The grant totals $512,000 and will be used to expand the photonics program into other academic institutions. The photonics lab at Baker College will also be updated, and labs at Auburn Hills and Jackson will be constructed as well. Some of the curriculum developed with the help of the grant money will also be used in other schools of varying grade levels.

Ultimately, Sala hopes this grant will serve as the fuel to ignite a flame of passion for engineering and laser technology in school-aged children.

“Right now,” she said, “science-fiction has become reality.”

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