Lasers on Kauaʻi
Gift creates high-tech opportunities in photonics
Kauaʻi students, from left, Shaun Arakaki, Brandon Allard and Bryson Seman conducted a laser demonstration for Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and other guests at the photonic laboratory dedication
In a big (literally) donation, Kauaʻi Community College received 17 crates containing 12,000 pounds of high-tech laser equipment in May 2005. Thanks to the generous gift from The Boeing Company, Kauaʻi now has a photonics lab. The equipment includes optical benches, optical mounts, accessories and a cryogenic system.
Photonics is the technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. In photonics, optical devices such as lenses, mirrors and telescopes direct a laser beam. It is a rapidly expanding field with a wide range of practical applications, including surveying and imaging equipment, police speed guns, fiber optic telecommunications systems, laser eye surgery and industrial production applications.
The photonic gift came about when Kauaʻi was called upon to participate in training and educating island students in support of workforce development on the island. Kauaʻi Mayor Bryan Baptise created Team Tech initiatives, whose major push has been to attract high-tech industry to help boost the Kauaʻi economy. One of the island’s largest employers is the Pacific Missile Range Facility, which needs trained technicians.
Taking the lead on the huge job of assembling and then getting trained on the new equipment was Kauaʻi electronic technology Associate Professors Francis Takahashi and Rick Matsumura. It took these instructors, two Boeing experts and three students the summer to set up the equipment, valued at $110,000. Boeing made two staff people available for the assembly, and Envisioneering, a Virginia-based engineering firm, donated enough money to employ three students. The students had close ties to the campus—Shaun Arakaki is a Kauaʻi campus graduate and Brandon Allard and Bryson Seman were both first year electronics technology students at the time.
After lab assembly, the instructors and students had to master the equipment. The staff also went for laser safety training at the Air Force Research Laboratory on Haleakalā.
The timeline was tight—the lab had to be operational by the start of the fall semester, when the first photon training class was offered. The photonics program is an innovative new component to the campus’ traditional electronics technology program, which includes instruction in electronics, computer technology, networking, information technology and telecommunications. Next, Takahashi and his staff will create a curriculum for more training.
Kauaʻi Chancellor Peggy Cha celebrated at the lab’s blessing with dignitaries including UH Interim President David McClain, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems President and CEO Jim Albaugh and Envisioneering President Jim Kuga. The Kauaʻi students treated attendees to a tour of the lab and a laser demonstration.
Like other UH community colleges, the Kauaʻi campus works with the dual focus of providing industry with trained employees and island residents with the skills they need to compete for productive jobs. Takahashi says, "This program is in direct response to growing industry needs on Kauaʻi." The photonics training program will give island students a firm foundation to enter the expanding high-tech job market that is opening up right in their own backyard.