UMass-Amherst Secures $5M Grant to Establish First Open Access R&D Facility for Advanced Optical Components

Posted  by GoPhotonics


Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech), a unique public agency, that supports business formation and growth in the technology sector, announced a $5 million award from the Healey-Driscoll Administration to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass-Amherst). This funding is intended to facilitate the establishment of an open-access additive manufacturing and design/testing facility within the university campus. Through the Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant Program, this grant will enhance UMass-Amherst's capabilities in advanced manufacturing and foster greater cooperation with other Massachusetts universities on research and development initiatives related to advanced optical technologies. These technologies find applications in diverse fields such as biotechnology, defense, aerospace, environmental monitoring, and general electronics.

The Healey-Driscoll Administration is committed to building a more dynamic manufacturing ecosystem by supporting research and development opportunities across the state,” said Secretary Yvonne Hao of the Executive Office of Economic Development. “This investment will help connect leading innovators, foster workforce opportunities, promote creative problem solving, and accelerate the potential for breakthroughs in a field that underpins so many other essential industries.”

“This investment is another example of Massachusetts’ commitment to strengthening innovative technologies and making R&D tools more accessible to growing businesses, academic researchers, and entrepreneurs across the state, providing opportunities that would normally be cost-prohibitive,” said Carolyn Kirk, Executive Director of MassTech. “Placing it at our flagship university, which has a track record of proven success and partnerships in the advanced manufacturing space, made perfect sense. When we invest in technical training at a leading institution like this, we can expand training opportunities and the talent pipeline to manufacturing careers, helping diversify our workforce and the ability of the state to compete on a global scale.”

The announcement comes on the heels of the state’s recent award of $19.7 million in funding through the federal CHIPS and Science Act to expand the production of microelectronics in the Northeast, work that will benefit from increased R&D in related sectors, including advanced optical technologies.

Optical technologies are essential in the 21st Century, acting as the backbone for transformational industries ranging from semiconductors to mobile technologies, medicine to national defense,” said Pat Larkin, Director of the Innovation Institute at MassTech, which manages the Collaborative R&D grant program. “That’s why it is critically important to expand collaboration and partnerships in this space, to encourage increased engagement between research institutions, and private industry. We’re proud to make this investment in UMass-Amherst to help establish a first-of-its-kind open-access facility that will expand our capability for innovation and strengthen training opportunities in a sector that will be so critical to the future of our economy.”

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. Through the project, UMass-Amherst will collaborate with Electro Magnetic Applications Inc. (EMA), which specializes in the testing and design of materials used in space and operates at the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) in Pittsfield, and other industry partners, as well as Northeastern University, Springfield Technical Community College, and Berkshire Community College. The BIC will act as a bridge between industry, academia, and government to help develop an additive manufacturing talent pipeline by providing workforce development opportunities for students and young professionals.

For 160 years, UMass Amherst has been an incubator for revolutionary thinking and big ideas,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes. “Today we further this legacy, as we celebrate advancements in precision optics, coatings and metalens technologies in Western Massachusetts, and prepare to establish an Advanced Optics Manufacturing and Characterization Facility right here at UMass. By bringing together leading scientists, engineers, researchers and industry partners, this new facility will accelerate the development and adoption of these transformative technologies.”

“The State of Massachusetts and MassTech continue to prioritize investing in critical technologies and capabilities within the Commonwealth,” said Justin McKennon, Principal Scientist II and the Co-PI for this project on behalf of EMA. “It sets the State apart as a place that not only welcomes, but believes in the companies that reside here. At EMA we understand that any new technology requires the ability demonstrate it can work in harsh environments, and with our test and simulation capabilities we are beyond excited to play a key role in helping companies in and around the Commonwealth to prove out their technologies in Space and other harsh environments”.

UMass-Amherst will also use the grant to fund a full wafer imprint tool, which is a low-cost, high-resolution nano-imprinting lithography device that generates patterns for various applications, a technology that is not currently available in any public facility in the United States. This investment will provide a singular opportunity for research and collaboration for companies and institutions in Massachusetts.

The Collaborative R&D Matching Grant program has awarded nearly $60 million to projects across the state that have leveraged more than $180 million in matching contributions from project partners. This includes 20 projects that have supported innovative industry and academic collaborations and investments in novel R&D infrastructure to bolster the Massachusetts tech and innovation economy. The grant program has supported projects in emerging industries such as cloud computing, quantum computing, marine robotics, printed electronics, cybersecurity and data science, and nanomaterials and smart sensors. These investments have led to more than 80 industry partnerships and 60 intellectual property and licensing agreements in the past two years.

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