Certificiate in photonics OKd

The Graduate School and the Pratt School of Engineering's Fitzpatrick Center for Photonics and Communications Systems are now offering a graduate certificate program in photonics--another move in the University's quest for the highest quality, most comprehensive photonics program in the nation.

The program, which recognizes students who have developed interdisciplinary and transferrable sets of skills relating to photonics, addresses the increasingly significant role of light in realms such as medicine, national defense and fiber-optic communications.

"The idea is that photonics--which is just optics with a sexy name--becomes so useful that it would be used for things that would involve the same kinds of applications that you might use electronics for," said Bob Guenther, associate director of education for the Fitzpatrick Center. "For those people in the various sciences who decide to do multidisciplinary research activity involving photonics, this certificate would recognize this activity."

Pratt began a five-year, $100 million photonics and communications initiative in Oct. 2000, with plans for state-of-the-art research facilities and an extensive research community of tenure-track faculty, research assistants and graduate students.

Later that year, a $25 million gift for photonics research from Duke alumni Michael and Patty Fitzpatrick went toward the construction of the Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences, which will house the Fitzpatrick Center in one of its two wings when it is completed this summer.

The new certificate program is designed to accomodate both Masters of Science and doctoral students. It requires students to complete a survey course in photonics and three courses from the approved course listing, which draws from the departments of physics, electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, biology and chemistry. Students must also attend at least four Fitzpatrick Center seminars and deliver a formal presentation in the seminar series.

For doctoral students aiming for the photonics certificate, their dissertation committees will include members of the Fitzpatrick Center.

Although the photonics certificate was not officially offered until this semester, the Fitzpatrick Center seminar series has been up and running for a couple of years. Currently, about 25 graduate students are attending this semester's seminars, said Leigh Deneef, associate dean of the Graduate School. He added that the Graduate School anticipates around 20 photonics certificate aspirants per year.

Deneef speculated that the program will be especially attractive to electrical engineering and physics students, as most of the classes on the approved course list come from these two departments. At the moment, he said, there are no plans for a full-fledged degree program in photonics due to the interdisciplinary nature of the field.

"It seems at the moment that there are many more proposals for certificate programs than we've had recently," Deneef said. "It's probably [due to] the fact that many disciplines are moving in new directions and now exploring the borders between disciplines, and certificate programs are good for exploring on those borders."

The Graduate School has added 20 new certificate programs in the last decade. Last year saw the addition of three certificate programs. The photonics certificate is the first new certificate the Graduate School has added in the current academic year.

Currently, there is no photonics certificate program for undergraduates, although undergraduates may study photonics as an area of emphasis, Guenther said.


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