As UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes said on October 13th, “For 160 years, UMass Amherst has been an incubator for revolutionary thinking and big ideas. Today we further this legacy.” What he was introducing that day was an open-access Advanced Optics Manufacturing and Characterization Facility on the UMass Amherst campus as funded by a formidable $5-million award from the Massachusetts Healey-Driscoll administration. One of the three co-principal investigators (co-PIs) for the ambitious project to “further this legacy” is Assistant Professor Amir Arbabi of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department. Read the UMass News Office release.

In addition to Arbabi, the other co-PIs for the award are Professor James Watkins of the UMass Department of Polymer Science and Engineering and Justin McKennon, principal scientist with Electro Magnetic Applications Inc. (EMA).

As the October 13th release from the UMass News Office explained, “The grant, from the Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant Program, will augment UMass Amherst’s capabilities in the advanced manufacturing space and increase its collaboration with universities across Massachusetts around R&D for advanced optical technologies, which have applications in biotechnology, defense, aerospace, environmental monitoring, and general electronics.”

Through the project, UMass Amherst will collaborate with EMA – which specializes in the testing and design of materials used in space and operates at the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield – and other industry partners, as well as Northeastern University, Springfield Technical Community College, and Berkshire Community College.

The News Office release said that “The facility will be the first publicly accessible facility of its kind in the country and will support testing, research, and production of advanced optical technologies.”

According to Arbabi, “The UMass share [of the $5-million award] is $2 million that we have budgeted for purchasing fabrication and characterization pieces of equipment that facilitate our research at UMass and enable commercialization of the meta-optics technology that is developed in our labs. My group designs, fabricates, and characterizes meta-optics devices and systems, and Professor Watkins' group develops novel fabrication techniques for their manufacturing.”

In addition, Arbabi said that “The facility will also be accessible to other groups and external users. At UMass, Professor Watkins will be mostly responsible for purchasing the fabrication equipment and setting up the fabrication facility, and I am responsible for the characterization equipment and facility.”

Arbabi added that “EMA will purchase equipment for the characterization of optical and meta-optic devices under extreme conditions (ionizing radiation, extreme temperatures, etc.).”

Arbabi heads the Photonics Laboratory in the ECE Department, and his research involves design, fabrication, and characterization of planar-optical components and systems. As Arbabi said, “We are conducting experimental and theoretical research in the area of photonic devices and systems, with current projects focusing on flat optics and photonic-integrated circuits.”

Arbabi also explained that “In these projects, we develop miniaturized optical systems with planar-form factors and low-power consumption that can be mass-produced at low cost. Such systems have many applications in wearable and mobile electronics, health monitoring, and medical diagnostics, biosensing, and as integral parts of industrial equipment.” (November 2023)

Article posted in Innovation