Search form

You are here

Jacob Longacre is QCC’s Own Captain Marvel

April, 2019

Sci-fi movies are following the advances of real world technology at a startling rate. Today’s Marvel super heroes have evolved from using electricity to using light as a source of power. In fact, the latest super hero Captain Marvel, can be seen shooting photonic blasts from her fingers in the current sci-fi adventure. This technology is nothing new to Quinsigamond Community College’s own super hero, Jacob Longacre, associate professor of Electronics Engineering Technology.

Mr. Longacre has taken his background in optics with the Navy and entrepreneurship in the toy industry, to new heights, and while he may not have the power of flight, super-strength or the photonic blasts of Captain Marvel, what he does possess is even more valuable, the power of educating students about the latest advances in photonics.

Photonics technology has become prevalent in almost every aspect of day-to-day life and the advances in the technology are growing at a rapid rate, with professors such as Mr. Longacre leading the crusade to help build that knowledge base for the next generation of workers. For the last five years the professor has been demystifying science and mathematics for community college students; after having been enticed to come to the college when it started a photonics program. QCC currently offers an associate degree and certificate in photonics.

“Optics and photonics are incredibly exciting and doing it on a tech level, where you are introducing a whole new area to students that you can link back to other areas (electronics, manufacturing and application work), to me is really exciting,” Mr. Longacre said.

A Visionary Culture

At QCC, the students learn about photonics through the lens of their professor’s past experiences that included a goal of working in nuclear fusion after earning his Bachelor of Science in Physics from Muhlenberg College. However, after starting work on his masters’ in nuclear fusion at the University of Michigan, he quickly decided it was not for him.

“I realized this would be all research and I just didn’t want to do that,” he said.

He changed gears, earning Master of Science degrees in Nuclear Engineering and Electronics at Michigan before beginning a career with the U.S. Navy, working on underwater lasers. In the Navy, he did studies of optical properties on snow and ice, working in such barren and arctic regions as Point Barrow, Alaska and Resolute, Canada. He said it was this type of hands-on, technical research that he truly enjoyed. He even got his name on a few patents; however, as time went on his job with the Navy changed.

“It became more managerial and less technical. They had me get my MBA (at Cornell University),” he said, adding that while useful, it wasn’t the career path he wanted.

Eventually the lure of the technical side became too much and he decided to leave the government and follow what had become his passion when he wasn’t working…developing toys.

“It was a hobby at first. I created toy cars and planes in my own style,” he said.

His entrepreneurial designs paid off and eventually a company asked him to help redesign a toy airplane, which began a 10-year career in the toy industry, working with several companies and developing innovative toy submarines, cars and airplanes. He helped create some of the first mass-marketed backyard radio-controlled airplanes, and developed an air powered toy submarine.

Throughout his career, learning has always been front and center and so, when an opportunity presented itself in academia, he jumped at the chance.

“I had always liked teaching and so I applied and got the offer to come here to QCC. I wanted to come here to teach and also to learn,” he said. “Getting the chance to hopefully have an impact on students is what’s kept me learning at QCC. I love working to find ways to express this to such a broad range of students.”

The diversity that community colleges have in its student body is one of the challenges that truly excites Mr. Longacre. The large disparity between students who may have strong educational backgrounds, or those who don’t have much experience in a formal education background is particularly challenging, and rewarding. In fact, he said some of his greatest achievements are when a student has that “aha” moment and understands the concepts he is teaching. He has seen it time and again when students recognize the cell phones they are carrying use different optical processes in order to operate. Photonics at work!

“At bigger four-year institutions students have lots more confidence. Part of the job here at a community college is to get students to realize how much potential they have. They come here for two years and they realize they can do whatever they want to do,” he said, adding that his students have gone on to immediately enter the workforce with lucrative careers, or have continued their education at top four-year universities.

The power of working together

Mr. Longacre has been instrumental in helping to propel students and businesses forward, which is why he has become an important component in the new AIM Photonics Academy Lab for Education & Application Prototypes (LEAP) facility, developed as a collaboration between AIM Photonics, AIM Academy, QCC, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), the Mass Tech Collaborative through the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2), and the Department of Defense. 

“We have a very broad spectrum of students and that is where we come into this, as a gateway to people, students and industry who are not fully cognizant of how this (photonics) works,” he said. “We want to broaden the awareness of this technology to other areas.”

A collaborative lecture was recently held with Mr. Longacre’s Photonics Technology class and WPI Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Yxiang “Shawn” Liu. Most of the students in Mr. Longacre’s class are already working in some aspect of the optical technology field, which added a unique perspective to the lecture.

“WPI brings more of the research and development perspective, while we (QCC) bring more of a ‘how can this be practically applied on the manufacturing floor,’ perspective,” Mr. Longacre said. “This collaboration is looking at how integrated photonics can be applied in the future workforce. We are identifying ways to support emerging technologies from research through production with this work. This is the future and QCC is front and center.”

41019_photonics_qcc-wpi069-thumb.jpg