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Optical Engineering Program Celebrating 30 Years of Shedding Light on Science

December 2, 2014

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Leading The Way: Department of Physics and Optical Engineering Head Charles Joenathan, PhD, is a fellow of SPIE, the international society of optics and optical engineeering, and the Optical Society of America.


Optical Engineering
at Rose-Hulman



1983: Optics education started on campus with academic minor in applied optics



1985: Center for Applied Optics Studies started; Master of Science in applied optics made available



1988: Bachelor of Science degree program offered in applied optics (first graduates receive degrees in 1990)



2003: Academic program name changed to optical engineering



2004: First group of bachelor’s/master’s degrees in optical engineering graduate



2007: Optical engineering program accredited by ABET


For three decades, Rose-Hulman has been a national leader in shedding the light on optical engineering and providing valuable skills for graduates to meet the needs of a growing industry, now estimated at $500 billion annually.

Rose-Hulman is one of only four nationally accredited optical engineering programs in the U.S., with its graduates being in demand by industry and graduate schools.

“The opportunities for our undergraduate students are extensive,” says Charles Joenathan, PhD, head of the Department of Physics and Optical Engineering. “We’re blessed with state-of-the-art facilities, high-quality faculty, and inquisitive students. That has provided us with a strong foundation that has earned Rose-Hulman an international reputation in optics education.”

H. Philip Stahl, president of the SPIE International Society for Optics and Photonics, commends Rose-Hulman as a visionary educational institution in the area of optical engineering. He was a member of the institute’s physics and optics faculty during the 1992-93 academic year.

“All things need light,” he says. “Just imagine life without optics. There would be no light bulbs, no computers, no cell phones, no TV, no flat-panel displays, no cameras, no GPS, and no medical digital tools, such as X-rays or CT Scans.”

Azad Siahmakoun, associate dean of faculty and professor of physics and optical engineering, goes even further. He adds that optical engineering is an enabling technology that touches every industry, and optics has become a vital part of everyday life. Examples include laser printers, Internet switches, grocery store checkout scanners, computers, and eye surgery. Optics also has a vital role in construction, laser cutting, drilling and welding, and data storage.

Helping Develop ‘Smart Lighting’ Systems

Since 2008, Rose-Hulman students and faculty have helped the National Science Foundation-sponsored Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center hasten the transition of important innovations from the laboratory bench to the classroom and marketplace. Rose-Hulman is one of the ERC's university outreach educational partners, and has hosted summer undergraduate research experiences for students.

This fall, a team of five Rose-Hulman optical engineering students was one of five winners in the Optical Society of America’s International Year of Light competition. The students replaced piano strings with laser beams to control sound. The International Year of Light is a global initiative, endorsed by the United Nations, highlighting the importance of light and optical technologies in everyday life.

NEW Kirtley With Student

Research Opportunities: Professor Sudipa Kirtley, PhD, is one of six department faculty receiving the Trustees’ Outstanding Scholar Award. She takes students to work on projects at the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s National Synchrotron Light Source.

There are other student experiences that prepare them for industry. Physics and optical engineering students have worked alongside Professor Sudipa Kirtley, PhD, in studies conducted at some of the United States government’s most advanced research laboratories.

Throughout her faculty tenure, Kirtley has been analyzing sulfur chemical moieties at the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s National Synchrotron Light Source, Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Advanced Light Source. She has involved undergraduate and graduate students in her projects.

“The students learn about the optics of the particular beam lines, the optimization of the beam parameters for their purposes, effective data acquisition, and meaningful data analyses,” says Kirtley, who has earned the Board of Trustees’ Outstanding Scholar Award.

Opportunities are also international as Rose-Hulman has launched a dual academic master’s degree program in optical engineering with South Korea’s Seoul National University of Science and Technology. Students can earn Master of Science degrees in optical engineering from both institutions.

Hands-On Learning Opens Career Oppportunities

The Department of Physics and Optical Engineering shares in Rose-Hulman’s educational philosophy that the best way to learn is by doing. Emphasis is placed on laboratory work with a hands-on approach, and the institute’s teaching and research laboratories are equipped with the most modern equipment.

“This individualized attention makes the optical engineering program at Rose-Hulman stand out among the best internationally,” says Joenathan, a fellow of SPIE and OSA. “We take great pride in allowing our students to have ample opportunities to perform directed research in many exciting inter-disciplinary areas, with individual guidance from faculty members who are tops in their fields.”

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Award-Winning Professor: The many contributions of Renat Letfullin, PhD, in optics, photonics, and nanomedicine were recently recognized with his distinction as a senior member in SPIE, the international professional society for optics and optical engineering.

Renat Letfullin, PhD, has been recently recognized with his distinction as a senior member in SPIE because of his work in optics, photonics, nanotechnology, and nanomedicine. He found a new Optical Effect of Diffractive Multifocal Focusing of Waves: Plane and Spherical Waves, which was named one of the 20 best optics discoveries of the 20th century.

An $8 million project with the U.S. Navy from 2000-2003 helped the department establish a state-of-the-art fiber optics/microwave photonics facility. The project also supported summer stipends for more than 60 students, post-doctorate students, and faculty members in optical engineering during the four years.

Siahmakoun is a SPIE Fellow, a senior member of the Optical Society of America, and a Senior Fellow in the U.S. Office of Naval Research. He is among five current faculty members and one emeriti professor who have earned the Trustees’ Outstanding Scholar Award. Others on the list include Joenathan, Robert Bunch, Richard Ditteon, Kirtley, and Art Western. Michael Moloney and Galen Duree have received the Dean’s Outstanding Teacher Award.

This environment is a reason each optical engineering graduate has an average of five job offers annually, and the choice of attending leading graduate school programs.