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Bifano named Photonics Center Director

Seeks to strengthen ties and build community

Thomas Bifano will foster a sense of community as the new Photonics Centers Director. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Thomas Bifano has a vision for the future of photonics at BU. To help achieve this vision, he was named the director of BU’s Photonics Center as of September 1. Bifano, a College of Engineering professor and interim director of the center since February 2006, has worked to invigorate the center’s academic and educational missions while continuing to build its programs in defense-related prototype development and photonics business acceleration.

“My focus will be on integrating the four missions of the Photonics Center: academic scholarship, commercial incubation, defense and government-sponsored photonics technology development, and education for Boston University students,” says Bifano.

One of Bifano’s first priorities as interim director was to foster a sense of community among the faculty, staff, and students working at the center and to strengthen ties and interactions with the BU community. “I believe strongly that interdisciplinary collaboration leads to groundbreaking research,” Bifano says, “which ultimately generates real societal impact.”

This impact has been felt both in the realm of defense and security prototypes and through the center’s business incubator. The highly successful RedOwl sniper detection robot is only one part of an overall program that engages both faculty and students and has made contributions to explosive device detection and disarmament and chemical and biological threat detection.

Positioning itself as a resource for students, faculty, and affiliated companies, the center combines academic experts with shared photonics facilities, including an optical fiber draw tower, an optical processing facility, an optical metrology laboratory, and an integrated optoelectronics packaging laboratory.

“Students benefit from the mentorship provided by faculty members who are leaders in their fields, hands-on experience with state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment, and the opportunity to work collaboratively on the research and development of new photonics technologies,” says Bifano.

The Photonics Business Incubator, a 23,500-square-foot facility that can house up to 14 start-up companies, has produced a laser system for the treatment of glaucoma, a PET ring for the early detection of cancer, specialty optical fiber for telecommunications, and a sequencer for decoding the human genome, among others.

“Innovative and fundamental research pursued by our faculty and students has fueled our success, and my immediate goal is to direct the center’s resources in a way that better supports these scholarly and educational programs,” says Bifano. “To that end, I have worked with the center’s faculty and staff to launch several new programs.”

Among these new programs are an executive advisory committee for academic programs, a graduate fellowship program to support applied photonics research, and a support program for new photonics faculty members to link their facilities and initial academic work to that of their colleagues at the center.

“Tom has done an extraordinary job as interim director with regard to engaging the research and educational excellence throughout the University that couple to photonics, yet with a keen eye on the overall mission of the Photonics Center,” says Kenneth Lutchen, dean of ENG.