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Photonics Technician Job Description, Career as a Photonics Technician, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school and two years of training

Salary: Median—$55,000 per year

Employment Outlook: Excellent

Definition and Nature of the Work

Photonics technicians are trained in the use of devices and systems associated with fiber optics and lasers, and with their applications. The job title comes from the word "photon," which is a unit of light. Photonics is the science of using light to generate energy, detect information, or transmit information. Photonics technicians install and troubleshoot lasers, optical systems, fiber optic devices, telecommunications equipment, photonics manufacturing equipment and simple control systems.

Fiber optics is the technology by which light and images are transmitted through hair-thin strands of plastic-coated glass fiber. The light in these fibers may be generated by lasers, which concentrate light into a narrow, intense beam. Fiber optics offers a fast, reliable, and inexpensive means of telecommunication. Lasers have applications in numerous other fields, as well. For example, they are used by physicians in diagnosing and treating a variety of conditions and diseases, and by the military in navigation and weaponry equipment. Photonics technicians may work for telecommunications firms and for optical fiber producers. They help electrical and chemical engineers and scientists deal with problems relating to fiber optics light sources. Using a special instrument called a spectrometer, these technicians measure light frequencies emitted by lasers. They also help engineers set up electrical and electronic experiments. Results are calculated through the use of computer-aided design systems. Photonics technicians may also assist in the development of new fiber optics designs and applications.

Some photonics technicians work with chemists and materials scientists to develop production methods aimed at purifying optical fiber. Others assist chemical and mechanical engineers in finding methods to reduce production costs.

Photonics technicians may work with engineers and scientists concerning the development, installation, and operation of laser systems. There are basically two types of laser systems: gas and solid-state. Some photonics technicians work with semiconductor laser systems, which are the most compact and reliable of all laser systems. Many assist engineers in dealing with methods to improve information flow and telecommunications systems. Computer and telephone systems are the primary information flow systems that they help to design, test, and install.

Other photonics technicians work with the larger and more costly gas-type laser systems, which are used primarily in the robotics and materials processing industries and in medical applications. Photonics technicians are also employed by the Department of Defense and companies that manufacture lasers for the department under contract.

A photonics technician repairs and calibrates laser equipment. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Education and Training Requirements

Educational requirements vary depending on the type of job you want and the employer for whom you want to work. You can train to become a photonics technician at a college or technical institute that offers a program in this field. Most technicians' programs take two years to complete. Fiber optics and laser manufacturing companies may hire graduates of two-year associate degree programs who have specialized in physics or electronics. Many companies provide on-thejob training to high school graduates who have a strong background in mathematics and physics. They often train technicians who have worked in related fields, especially those with experience in the electronics industry. The armed forces also train some enlisted personnel in laser installation and operation.

Getting the Job

If you attend a two-year program at a college or a technical institute, your school placement office may be able to help you find a job. State employment agencies may also help graduates find jobs as photonics technicians. If you are not a graduate of a specialized school, state agencies can sometimes help you locate a position that offers on-the-job training. You can also apply directly to companies that hire photonics technicians. Jobs are often listed in newspaper classifieds, job banks on the Internet, and trade journals that specialize in laser and optics technology.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Experienced photonics technicians can advance in several ways. Some may become supervisors of other technicians. Others may advance by moving into positions in sales, training, or technical writing. Technicians who receive additional education can become photonics engineers.

The employment outlook for photonics technicians is excellent. Currently there is a shortage. The demand for trained technicians in this rapidly growing field will be high as new laser and fiber optics applications are designed and implemented in telecommunications and many other areas.

Working Conditions

Working conditions for photonics technicians vary. They generally work thirty-five- to forty-hour workweeks, often in modern offices and laboratories. Technicians who install laser and fiber optics materials may work alone or with customers. Technicians who work with scientists and other engineers usually work in small teams. Although their hours are regular, some overtime and occasionally some weekend work may be necessary. In some cases, photonics technicians are members of labor unions.

Photonics technicians should enjoy working with their hands and with electronic components. They should also be able to work well both with fellow team members and customers. Because the laser and fiber optics field is changing rapidly, technicians will need to upgrade their skills continually by taking courses related to the latest technological developments.

Where to Go for More Information

Laser Institute of America
13501 Ingenuity Dr., Ste. 128
Orlando, FL 33826
(800) 345-2737

Optical Society of America
2010 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 223-8130

Laurin Publishing Co., Inc.
Berkshire Common P.O. Box 4949
Pittsfield, MA 01202-4949
(413) 499-0514

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings for photonics technicians vary depending on the applicant's experience and the kind of job. These technicians generally earn salaries that are higher than those of other kinds of engineering technicians, and in recent years their salaries have risen considerably. According to a leading photonics publication, Photonics Spectra, the median salary for photonics technicians in 2004 was $55,000. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans. Technicians who install or repair fiber optics systems often receive an allowance for travel expenses.

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