From magazine covers that light up to grab the attention of readers, to food packaging that changes color when the food gets too old, to 3-D objects from printers: The field of printed electronics and functional imaging is growing and Cal Poly’s graphic communication department wants to be an even bigger part of it.
The graphic communication department proposed a Master of Science degree in printed electronics and functional imaging. It is pending approval for Fall 2013.
Graphic communication professor Malcolm Keif is helping to lead the program’s development. There is an audience and a need for this program, Keif said.
“We are on the ground floor of starting something special and something new and Cal Poly students could be among the few people in the country that have a master’s degree in printed electronics,” Keif said.
Printed electronics have engineering, science and manufacturing components, Keif said. The graphic communication department is really part of the manufacturing and application side. Cal Poly is one of the leaders in terms of the manufacturing process and knowledge of printing equipment. The master’s degree could really boost the leadership role.
“Printed electronics is really focused on having the electrical application,” Keif said. “Functional imaging is the broader term for basically printing for some type of a function but not necessarily an appearance. Functional imaging includes 3-D printing, security printing, active packaging and printed electronics.”
Food companies use active packaging that can turn a different color when the food is ripe or expired, Keif said. Governments use security printing to print money to ensure people can’t just go out and make their own.
There is a future in printed electronics, graphic communication sophomore Steven Berger said.
“3-D printing is where you can legitimately print out a 3-D object,” Berger said. “Right now, they have even printed out stem cells.”
Graduates of the new program will have skill sets nobody else will have, graphic communication assistant professor Colleen Twomey said.
“Right now, there is not much cross pollination between electronics and printing,” Twomey said. “The great thing about this master’s degree is students can carve their own way and essentially create jobs that may not exist right now.”
The master’s degree really has the potential to boost Cal Poly’s prominence in the field of functional imaging, Keif said.
It would expand the department’s knowledge base and the credibility it has in graphic communication to a market segment that’s growing, Twomey said. The master’s degree would go beyond the production of printing. It would apply functions from materials science, electrical engineering, computer science and possibly biological sciences to printing.
Jonathan Sehmer, an operating systems analyst at Cal Poly, has taught Emerging Technologies (GRC 452), as a lecturer. There is real potential for success for students who participate in this master’s degree program, he said.
“I think with us being in the west so close to Silicon Valley, there is going to be a lot of application for IT companies where students are going to be able to get jobs when they graduate,” Sehmer said.
Companies are beginning to want to produce printed electronics profitably and they need people to help develop these technologies, Twomey said. Graduates from the master’s program would understand the production process, file preparation and conductive inks.
Printed electronics could be an upcoming trend in packaging, graphic communication sophomore Olivia Goree said.
“I would definitely consider a master’s in printed electronics especially because I am minoring in packaging,” Goree said.
The master’s degree is currently in the Academic Senate portion of the approval process, Keif said. The department is hoping to get the master’s degree approved by the Academic Senate and then the California State University Chancellor’s Office.
“I’ve heard the chancellor’s office can be a long process,” Keif said. “I would love for it to be approved by April but hopefully May or early June. Our goal is to start in the fall.”
Jordan Harris contributed to this article.