Photonics is one of the most important of the European Commission's five Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) for industry. That’s why Austria's Vorarlberg region has opted to introduce photonics in school classrooms – making it one of the first regions in Europe to do so. Starting in the coming summer term, pupils in Vorarlberg from the fifth grade upwards will be learning about the technology with the help of the “Photonics Explorer”.
Dornbirn, Austria – Photonics features in virtually every area of modern life: LED and OLED lighting; TV, computer and mobile phone displays; CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs; optical analysis techniques for medical diagnostics and treatment; solar cells for generating electricity; and last but not least optical data transmission, without which the modern internet – complete with sites such as Facebook and Twitter – would not exist at all. Photonics is a future-oriented technology. It holds huge potential for creating jobs, and is expected to represent a market volume of EUR 360 billion by 2015.
The “Photonics Explorer” kit has been developed at pan-European level and is distributed by the Belgian non-profit organisation EYEST (Excite Youth for Engineering, Science and Technology). It contains educational materials and equipment in a range of languages, designed to familiarise pupils with the world of photonics. At the suggestion of the Zumtobel Group, the Photonics Explorer kit is being introduced in schools in Vorarlberg on a trial basis. The aim is to get pupils at upper and lower secondary level (ages 10 to 12 and 16 to 18) enthusiastic about photonics by giving them the resources to conduct photonics experiments in their physics lessons. 110 Photonics Explorer kits are being sent to Vorarlberg for distribution among the region's schools. The kits will be used in lessons at all of the schools on a trial basis from February 2013.
Building enthusiasm for technology and science
“In the future Vorarlberg will need more skilled workers and graduates in scientific and technical fields. It is therefore vital that we get school pupils in Vorarlberg interested in, and enthusiastic about, science and technology,” says regional politician Andrea Kaufmann. “Photonic technologies will secure us a prominent role in IT and communication technology, security, materials science, life science and healthcare. Both at home and abroad, photonics is seen as an important driver of innovation,” she adds, affirming that Vorarlberg is backing one of the most important Key Enabling Technologies of the 21st century.
Encouraging the next generation
Klaus Vamberszky, Executive Vice President Technology at the Zumtobel Group, was one of those responsible for bringing the Photonics Explorer kit to Vorarlberg's schools. Vamberszky first heard about the project at an EU event in Brussels, and brought it to the attention of the regional government in Vorarlberg. “We are dependent on a constant supply of new blood entering the lighting industry,” he says. “But despite the major role photonics plays in our everyday lives, it is not easy to find specialists in this field. So familiarising schoolchildren with photonics and awakening their curiosity is very important for our future. The Photonics Explorer kit represents a vital move by the Vorarlberg region towards overcoming this shortage of skilled labour.”
What is photonics?
Photonics is the technical discipline concerned with harnessing light in all its forms. Photonics focuses on the generation, control, measurement, and – above all – the use of light in virtually every area that is vital to society and the economy. The term "photonics" refers to the photon, the light particle, just as “electronics” refers to the electron.
Photonics is a Key Enabling Technology that makes it possible to exploit the properties of light. It is the common technological basis that links disciplines as diverse as production engineering, energy and lighting technology, medical engineering, environmental engineering, IT and communication technology. The harnessing and exploitation of the photon has become one of the most important drivers of innovation in today's society and economy. The global market for photonics is both hard-fought and highly dynamic.
Key Enabling Technologies
It is still unclear what form a large proportion of the goods and services of the future will take. What is certain, however, is that the main driving force behind their development will be Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) such as nanotechnology, micro- and nanoelectronics including semiconductors, advanced materials, biotechnology and photonics. KETs will play a leading role in the shift to a low carbon, knowledge-based economy.
KETs facilitate the development of new goods and services and the restructuring of industrial processes. Together they will pave the way for the modernization of European industry and safeguard Europe's research, development and innovation capabilities.
Source: European Commission
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Media contact Vorarlberg Regional Government
Amt der Vorarlberger Landesregierung