These particles are called photons. I create structures that localize and trap these photons. Once we have the photons cornered, we make them interact with matter to see what happens. Right now we’re focusing on several applications, ranging from computing to communications to bio-sensing. Through our research, we have the potential to make computers faster, communications more secure and bio-sensors more efficient.
As a child, I loved art, music and building things. In middle school, I became more interested in math and physics. Eventually, as an undergraduate, I studied electrical engineering. But even as I declared this major, I was skeptical about whether or not it would satiate my desire to be creative. I also considered becoming an architect, which more obviously combined my love for math and physics with creativity. Yet, as I continued down the electrical engineering path, I realized that it was equally creative, if not more so. In my current work, the creativity just happens on a much smaller scale. When you look through a microscope you see how beautiful the tiny structures built for photons are. And in addition to being beautiful, they have functional roles and tasks. To me, being an engineer is both creative and practical.
I have two young daughters, and because of them, I decided that I needed to do more outreach. Kids generally say that they want to be entertainers or athletes when they grow up, because that’s what they see in the world. And while I can’t compete with the public presence of a professional athlete, I can do more than I’m currently doing. I have a responsibility to do more. Even to me – a passionate engineering professor and scientist – engineering was not an obvious choice. I’m working to share my story and my work in hopes of creating a better understanding of the cool things engineers do, so that children like my daughters might also aspire to be engineers.