ATC laser lab nears completion

January 10--When the Advanced Technology Center's (Mexico, MO) new laser lab is completed, the technical school will finally have a chance to stretch out.

The new labs will reduce congestion and crowding in one of the school's most popular programs. Currently, much of the ATC's laser equipment is crammed into two labs separated by temporary partitions. The five new labs that take up the bottom floor of the 17,000-square-foot expansion will be dedicated to low- and high-power laser labs.

The expansion will also feature classroom space just for laser students, and will allow more flexibility in the ATC's main wing. The new labs will provide space for the school's nuclear technology lab, which will be in the main building.

ACT Executive Director Randy Etter said, in some cases, the laser technology program's cramped quarters makes it very difficult to use the equipment they have, like their laser welding systems.

"[The new labs] give us a lot more flexibility and a lot better use of our time because there won't be the tear-down and build-back-up steps in our laboratories," he said.

The laser program's lack of space is a product of its own popularity. Etter said the program grew much faster than expected, leaving lab space scarce.

About 25 students will start working in the new lab after the equipment is moved in in early February. Etter estimated the cost of the laser lab as roughly $760,000, and said it will be the first section of a $1.9 million expansion up and running.

The ATC laser program is designed to teach students how lasers are used in advanced manufacturing industries. Students in the program often work with other technology-based sequences at the school, like the automation and robotics program.

Paul Rowden, 19, of Columbia, is one of these students. He's a second-year double major in laser photonics and automation and robotics. He'll be using the new laser lab when it opens.

Rowden said he was attracted to the laser program at the ATC because it is the only program of its kind in Missouri. He's interested in a career running or maintaining and repairing laser systems.

The increased space the expansion labs will allow will be a great help to Rowden and his fellow students, he said.

"It's just really, really cramped," said Rowden. "We don't have nearly enough space."

This article appeared in "The Mexico Ledger, online from Little Dixie."

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