Optical Engineering Senior in Spotlight for Headlight Project Design

Monday, September 16, 2019
Audrey Brand working in the lab

Senior optical engineering student Audrey Brand used a novel approach to freeform optics to produce headlight beams that achieve precision light patterns, with fewer parts. The concept earned top honors in a national optics design competition.

Audrey Brand is shining light, literally, on innovative techniques in automotive headlight design.

That’s why the senior has been recognized among the nation’s top optical engineering students, helped professional engineers find ways to improve fiber optics connections, and earned acceptance into one of America’s top-level doctorate optical engineering programs after graduation early in 2020.

Brand was one of six award winners in the 2019 Robert S. Hilbert Memorial Optical Design Competition, recognizing excellence in student optical design projects. Students submitted work from an undergraduate-, graduate- or doctorate-level optical design class assignment or thesis that used optical design software created by the Synopsys Optical Solutions Group.

Her novel design used freeform optics to produce vehicle headlight beams that meet international regulations. It demonstrated the potential of using the new optics technique to achieve precision light patterns, with fewer parts, which can enable cost savings during the manufacturing process.

The concept was first developed with physics and optical engineering professor Hossein Alisafaee in a new automotive lighting course taught during the 2018-19 school year.

“Our work cascaded into so much more than a 10-week class,” admits Brand, the first Rose-Hulman student honored in the Hilbert competition. “I was able to use Synopsys Lucidshape software to take the concept to the next level, and learn about automotive industry standards and legal patterns. Being able to see road lighting simulations of my headlamps after every design change helped me to better understand the engineering process.”

Under Alisafaee’s continued guidance, she has written the specifications and claims in order to file a patent on the project design. It is currently pending review, has been scrutinized by automotive lighting professionals, and earned the grand prize honor, shared with three other Rose-Hulman students, at the 2018 E2Festa Global Capstone Design Fair in South Korea.

“Audrey is a ‘doer,’” exclaims Alisafaee. “Whatever she puts her mind to, she delivers. Research of any kind takes a lot of hard work and determination, especially when you’re developing a new form of technology. She could see the light, so to speak, and was diligent in clearing every obstacle that came before her.”

For her part, Brand says, “This project got me to realize that I want to make things. I want to be a mover, a connector and test my own limits. The lessons I learned from this project will help guide me to the right path.”

She supplemented her Rose-Hulman classroom and research experiences as an optics process intern this summer with Samtec Inc. in New Albany, Indiana. She worked with a team of engineers to develop and test processes that will improve the production of fiber optics connectors.

And, the same day that Brand started the fall academic quarter of her final year on campus, she received acceptance an optical engineering doctorate degree program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“Everything is falling into place. However, there’s more work to get done,” she says. “I couldn't have gotten this far without the hands-on education at Rose-Hulman, guidance from my mentors, and the educational license from Synopsys."

Rose-Hulman was among the first U.S. colleges to award a bachelor’s-level degree in optical engineering. Find out more about the program here.